How to Convince Your Manager to Use Open Source Software

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The excerpt below is from an article by Stormy Peters that originally appeared on Wazi, a clearinghouse for the timeliest thinking on open source software.


You know who loves open source software? Developers love open source software. Developers, and IT staff. If open source was a band, these guys would be the biggest fans. They've downloaded it, they've used it, they know it works — and they know it saves them loads of both time and money. They tend to use open source software whenever it makes sense to do so.
But when open source fans try to use open source software at work they often find that their manager, or their manager's manager, has a lot of concerns. After trying to battle them, they usually end up bringing in an outside expert to talk their manager into it; or they simply abandon their plan altogether. It's just too much work to convince management that it's okay to use open source.
Now, we don't want to point any fingers, but you know what often happens next. Authority is questioned, quiet revolutions happen and the next thing you know, open source software is being used — discreetly, unofficially — just to prove that it works! There's got to be a better way. Well, fortunately there is. In this article we'll outline some strategies you can use to convince your manager to use open source software, along with tips on how to make those strategies effective.
  • Make sure you understand how proprietary software is acquired.
  • Find out what your manager thinks about open source.
  • Address all of management’s questions and concerns … preferably in advance.
  • Bust the prevailing myths about open source software use.
  • Create infrastructure.
  • Take a shortcut or two (at your own risk!).
  • Build your plan.

Make Sure You Understand How Proprietary Software is Acquired

Often, developers don't really know how their company acquires software. They need something; so they tell their manager and a piece of software somehow gets purchased and shows up on their desk. (Or, probably more likely, they are told what software they need to use and they just download it from a central repository.) At most large companies, there's a whole software procurement process. Many have tried simply adding open source software to the existing process. Although open source doesn't usually fit the existing process perfectly, it's best to try to use as much of that process as you can — while simply adding steps to address the issues that are unique to open source software. So, while it's unlikely that you'll be able to fit open source software into your procurement process without making any changes at all, being able to discuss how you've addressed all the issues your company cares about concerning the procurement of software will certainly help your case. Examples of things that a procurement process normally covers are:
  • Price. Both up front and on-going costs are at issue. This includes the price of acquiring the software, installing and integrating it, and providing maintenance and support. It's best to address each of these potential costs, even if your company's particular use of open source software may not involve them all.
  • Source Code Escrow. The procurement process usually addresses what will happen if the software company goes out of business. Often there's a clause stating that the customer will get a copy of the source code, along with the right to continue using the product. While this isn't usually an issue for open source software, it is worth pointing out what you'll do if your contract with a provider of open source software ends or if the company goes out of business.
  • Support. Who is going to support this software? With the proprietary software procurement model, it's often obvious who is responsible for support; which means this issue is really more about the terms of support: 24×7, work hours, numbers to call, etc.

Find Out What Your Manager Thinks About Open Source

Don't assume that you know how your manager feels about open source software. There's a chance they know all about open source software and use it all the time at home. There's also a chance that they've fallen for every myth. Your manager:
  • may be a big open source fan. In which case the problem may be your manager's manager.
  • may not know anything about open source software and be afraid to admit it. In this case, provide lots of information in a non-threatening way.
  • may think open source is ad or threatening. Right or wrong, your manager may have already decided open source software is bad. If you can, try to figure out why they've reached this conclusion. Maybe someone they know has had a bad experience or maybe they read an article with misinformation.
  • may believe every myth you've ever heard, and some you haven't, about open source software. Be sure to address all the myths, not just the ones that are anti-open source. Addressing all of them, even the ones that would help your cause, makes you look knowledgeable (and impartial) about open source software — which will ultimately help your cause.

Outside sources can also be helpful in addressing management's concerns about using open source software. Depending on your manager's learning style, you might point them to online resources like Wazi or to books like the Cathedral and the Bazaar (you can find a list of books here) or to conferences like OSBC. You could even pull in an outside expert to speak to them — perhaps on the phone to start with....
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