OSS adoption guidelines for SMBs

Small and midsize businesses with little or no IT resources should see open source software as low-cost, quick deployment alternative, but need to identify "mature software" and have strong vendor support, insiders say.

For most small and midsize businesses (SMBs), costs and availability of in-house IT resources dictate the type of software they procure. This is why industry insiders are urging these companies to consider open source software (OSS) and leverage the low start-up expenditure and availability of support offered by market players.

Sachin Dabir, chairman of the OSS for innovation and collaboration special interest group (SIG) at Singapore Computer Society (SCS), said such software offers "great benefits" to SMBs and enterprises and the quantum of benefits would vary in accordance with the process of adoption.

For SMBs, the considerations for adopting OSS are similar to other software, Dabir stated in his e-mail to ZDNet Asia. For instance, they need to consider whether to pursue on-premise or cloud-based deployments, and assess the cost of internal resources over outsourced support and, most importantly, look at the business functionality, he explained.

"The business functionality and cost of OSS are more important than the technology itself. Most open source business software offer zero licensing cost and nominal support subscription, which gives SMBs a choice of vendors and also saves costly upfront expenditure, thus, making it a safe and smart decision," he added.

Lau Shih Hor, chairman of the SME Liaison Committee at SCS, reiterated that cost is often the first consideration for this business demographic.

As such, since the base software come free, the likely cost components will be in software customization and ongoing support following the implementation, which means the availability of technical resources at a reasonable price point becomes the most critical factor, Lau noted.

"Regardless of how good the open source software might be, it is the availability and affordability of support [the vendor provides] that makes it viable," he said in an e-mail.

Yves de Montcheuil, vice president of marketing for OSS vendor Talend, also said companies should work with the OSS vendor to get the proper support contract with service level agreements. "Open source software is not more risky than proprietary software. You simply need to get the right guarantees," he said.

Identify business needs
SMBs should also utilize OSS only after they have validated their business needs, pointed out Lila Tretikov, CIO and vice president of engineering at SugarCRM. For instance, companies should ask how the software supports their business practices and how OSS can help improve these, she added.

Tretikov told ZDNet Asia that if the SMB has existing business processes that are "troublesome", it needs to focus on ironing out these kinks before implementing open source systems such as SugarCRM's customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

"Remember that business process trumps systems, so if that is the part that needs finetuning, focus on that first before a troublesome process is codified into the software [you plan to deploy]," she suggested.

Test software thoroughly
Elaborating on Tretikov's point, de Montcheuil said companies should test the OSS thoroughly before choosing to implement it.

The Talend executive noted that if the software did not meet the company's business requirements, its deployment would be a "failure" regardless of whether it was proprietary or open source. To prevent this, he urged companies to try the software in a real-life configuration.

"This is usually easier with open source because it is free for download," he added.

SCS's Lau added that other best practices for SMBs looking to get on the open source bandwagon include being discerning about the maturity of the software by reviewing relevant references. He added that companies need to "be prepared" to work closely with the selected vendor to customize the software for the business.