CIO Insight has an interesting profile of Backcountry.com, an online retailer of outdoor recreation gear. Their office is in Park City, UT, just a few minutes from where I live, and I know their CIO, David Jenkins--so, I read the profile with some interest.
The major theme of the article is how Dave uses open source software for almost everything Backcountry.com does from its supply chain to knowledge management. You won't find this too surprising when you hear that Dave's previous job was as a sales rep for RedHat. Open source is in his blood.
Using open source software as a major underpinning of their IT strategy also changes the profile of the people they hire. Backcountry.com is much more interested hiring programmers with the ability to customize and link open source tools, than they are in traditional IT systems management skills.
This focus allows them to link systems and customize processes in ways they might not with closed source tools:
The firm uses Firefox for its Web browsers and manages e-mail with open-source software from Zimbra Inc. "With an open-source product like Zimbra, we can do things like tie e-mails directly into our order management system," Jenkins says. For example, customer order numbers in Zimbra e-mails are linked directly to the order management system, so customer service reps don't have to open separate applications. Jenkins estimates that "gearheads" ---Backcountry's affectionate nickname for its CSRs---save three hours a week as a result, translating to roughly $150,000 in savings a year. "It wouldn't be possible to do something like that with Microsoft Outlook or some other proprietary system," he says. "Plus, it's one-tenth the cost."
Most companies have moved away (far away) from developing code because of the cost, uncertainty, and ongoing maintenance headaches. It's nice to see someone bucking the trend and highlighting an alternative approach.