When corporate IT resists the Open Source

Larger companies are slowly introducing Open Source technologies to their organizations and, as most of us know, change even for better isn’t often very easy, specially if they had already invested in technologies such as Microsoft .NET and Windows Servers and subsequently hired staff who are only specialized in those technologies.

Many of the cutting edge Web2.0 innovations are happening in the open source world and they have been developed in technologies such as the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) and Ruby on Rails. The problem is, when the management decides to utilize some of these technologies they immediately face the resistance from the internal IT team.

Reproducing many of the Web2.0 sales and marketing tools in the proprietary world is very costly and expensive and the results are often not so impressive either. In fact I see many smaller companies who are utilizing more advanced web applications with slick user interfaces to power their blogs, content management driven websites, online forums, and Intranets, all thanks to the open source technologies. On the other hand, some larger sales and marketing companies with much larger budgets are starting to feel deprived from the new wave of internet applications, because utilizing one means exposing the internal IT staff to things they aren’t used to see!

A few years ago commercial open source vendors had to do some myth busting to overcome the IT’s objections and gain the management’s trust, but that’s no longer the case since companies such as Google, IBM, or Facebook are already using open source technologies to run their day to day operations. Google has stored the Internet in the MySql database, Facebook is serving more than 40 million users using LAMP technologies, therefore the last remaining excuse from the IT team is:

“we simply don’t have the skill-set to maintain and develop using open source technologies!”


“If we start using open source, our team’s skill-set will become obsolete. We don’t even know how to maintain MySql or program in PHP!”

In other words, they are afraid of being replaced!

Part of this has roots in the fact that some IT professionals have received their training from Microsoft accredited schools, vs. normally computer science graduates have to learn different technologies during their 4 year programs at universities. Of course there are always exceptions in both cases.

Advice to the Business Leaders

At business school you’ve learned that you need to diversity your resources and not to put all the eggs in one basket. If you want to have the next nifty Content Management, Intranet, or Social Networking for your company and Open Source is the option, then you need to prepare to make some changes and diversify both your technology infrastructure and the pool of talent in your company. This could disturb the organization in short term, yet benefit you in long term. Everyone likes to live in their comfort zone, but you can’t live like that forever.

Don’t shock the organization! Instead consult your open source solutions provider and consider a gradual stage by stage plan to introduce the new technology to your organization. This plan should as well include training sessions for your internal staff. Many commercial open source developers offer training services too.

The philosophy of open source is integration and collaboration, meaning that it is quite possible to integrate and bridge let’s say a LAMP web application with your existing Window Servers and other .Net applications. In fact most Web Application Architects are in favor of Loosely Coupled Architecture because you can customize and modify them as your business grows or changes strategies. This would also mean that you don’t have to lock yourself into a single vendor and have more options to choose from in the future both in terms of buying custom technologies and hiring talents.

Unlike a few years ago, you no longer need to have extensive knowledge of programming and database design to maintain a web application. i.e your corporate website or Intranet. Many of the administration functions are now done using the user interfaces and dashboards. Besides, your open source solutions provider would be happy to train your IT staff in both development and administration aspects. The idea is to teach you to fish so you can feed yourself for as long as the technology is working for you.

And you need to talk to your human resource too! Consider candidates who aren’t just proficient in one technology coming from one vendor. Did you know that most computer scientist have to learn multiple different technologies during their 4 years of college or university training? Of course, qualifying them may not be as easy for the HR department. Computer Science is a very complex and diverse field. In this case as Paul Graham says: Hire a Hacker to help you find a Hacker. Computer Scientists often have a clear understanding of the available skills in their network of friends. Very likely your open source consultant can help you recruit new talents for your company.

Advice to the IT Team

Open Source isn’t here to threaten your job security. In fact this is yet another opportunity for you to learn something new and there are vast amounts of resources out there to feed your curious minds anywhere and anytime. The reality is that more and more companies are starting to incorporate open source technologies in their infrastructure, and those who have the knowledge to integrate and maintain different technologies will be in huge demand. Diversifying your skill-set would always look attractive on your resume and it makes you a more employable candidate for many companies out there.

[tags]Corporate IT, microsoft, open source, web2.0, windows, .net, organizational behavior, resistance, skills, knowledge, politics, marketing, sales, web applications, lamp, roby on rails[/tags]