Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Real World of Open Source Application Implementations: Case Studies from the Front Line

Last week I spoke on a panel about real world experiences about the cost of open source. Unfortunately, the panel was not publicized and no one but the speakers knew about it. Despite the lack of attendance, I found the session (which turned into a sort of round table discussion) very interesting. The following people participated in the conversation:

  • Terry Barbounis, Chief Technology Officer, The Christian Science Monitor. They are changing the way they work with software and are building many of their new applications on open source. Terry also brought along his lead applications architect, Russ Danner who had several insightful comments.
  • Chris Chicoine, Director of IT, AthenaHealth. AthenaHealth has one of the most (if not THE most) sophisticated SugarCRM deployment.
  • Maurizio Ferconi, Managing Director, Financial Engineering, Putnam Investments. Putnam has seen a huge ROI using open source at the infrastructure layer.
  • Ron Bongo, CEO, CorraTech. Does a lot of systems integration work with SugarCRM
  • Matt Asay from Alfresco moderated.
  • Me

For anyone who missed it (and everyone did). Here are some of my notes:

  • Competitors are collaborating about technology selection. Maurizio said one of his most trusted information sources are his peers at other companies. The core technologies do not make the competitive advantage. It is how they are integrated and used. Other useful information: word of mouth, general buzz, web research, and Venture capitalists [although, personally speaking, I find that VCs are always trying to push their portfolio companies].
  • The Christian Science Monitor is very active in both the developer and user communities. Terry sees community interaction as one of the real benefits of using open source software. The exchange of information and ideas is extremely valuable.
  • AthenaHealth uses best of breed over suites. They selected SugarCRM because they needed to build an extremely custom system and selected Sugar as a base because of its rapid growth and community buzz. The Christian Science Monitor uses more of a best of solution approach where they prioritize fitness to a specific use over generic best of breed.
  • Putnam uses open source to get better leverage on commercial software vendors. The open source option forces commercial software vendors towards reasonable pricing, better standards support, and more innovative features.
  • All agreed that if you choose open source in order create a heavily customized unique application, go in with your eyes wide open because you are in for some software development. Of course, this is no different from commercial software. The only difference is that open source gives you more latitude to customize if you wish to.
  • Everyone is using open source in mission critical applications. Terry talked about the responsibility he bears in supporting journalists who endure great risk to post their stories each day. Reliability is a key requirement and the panel agreed that they are finding this reliability in open source software.