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When moving to an open source platform, companies often choose software based on cost and security concerns. One CIO argues, however, that it's also vitally important to examine the provider's track record on product development support.
In this video interview, filmed at the Fusion 2012 CEO-CIO Symposium in Madison, Wis., SearchCIO-Midmarket.com Site Editor Wendy Schuchart sits down with William Caraher, CIO at von Briesen & Roper, s.c. in Milwaukee, to discuss how his company went about selecting an open source platform for its intranet.
Caraher says the best way to evaluate open source software is by looking at long-term product development support offerings. His firm selected Dropthings, a free open source Web portal, based on the provider's continued enhancements to its system and its ever-innovating community of developers.
You've recently moved your intranet to an open source platform. What key things did you learn from the experience?
William Caraher: When we set out to redo our intranet, we had a very specific design in mind. I went to the market to say, ‘I want to look at the universe of options for intranets.’ I narrowed it down to four choices: SharePoint -- which is what most people go with; developing a custom intranet solution like HTML or XML from the ground up; open source; or the idea of a hosted solution, where you pay a fee per user per month, so the model is interesting but it gets really expensive really fast.
SharePoint, we know, has a lot of benefits. It's a portal-based solution that can connect to a lot of resources internally, but there is a huge expense involved in that. You pay a per-user license fee, a server fee and, if you have to have multiple servers, the expense just keeps growing. So I came back to idea of open source.
[Because we’re] a law firm with security concerns, we asked whether we would have some risk with using open source. But it turned out that the real risk was about the support of the system. [Ask yourself if] you are getting involved with an open source platform that has support and a community of developers that are actively creating the software, enhancing it and providing value. We found that the solution we adopted does have a very strong developer base and actually fits the model of intranet that we were after.
Would you recommend that CIOs using SharePoint make the transition to open source solutions?
I think more CIOs should consider it. I used to say I would never use open source software in my organization because you don't get support and there is no 800 number to call. If it breaks down, what do you do? But if you have a strong development team or a developer that you can rely on -- someone who understands whatever platform you choose -- the risks are minimal. I would encourage people to take a look at open source because it does offer a universe of options. Sure, there are a few risks with support and ongoing enhancements, but if you have a strong development team or development resource, it's a really good idea to consider.