Big IT projects fail. Open source can help

Open source isn't a panacea, but it's a great way to minimize the risk of your IT project failing.

A large percentage of IT projects fail, and one big reason is the nature of the traditional software acquisition process. Buyers typically purchase software based on faith (demoware), with acceptance periods built into contracts to provide escape clauses if the software doesn't work as advertised. Open-source software, however, with its "try-before-you-buy" option, provides a better way to increase the odds of a successful IT project, while simultaneously lowering costs.

Enterprise software is hard, and made doubly so when million-dollar decisions must be made about software that has not been tried beyond a sales engineer's slideshow. It's therefore not surprising that Gartner Research Vice President Tony Bell recently suggested that "more than 50 percent of large Enterprise Content Management (ECM) projects fail if less than six months are spent on vendor choice and planning."

The real surprise is that any such projects succeed. Faith is great in religion, but it's a poor policy for enterprise software projects.

Now consider the open-source alternative. Sales cycles for open-source companies routinely average 60 to 90 days, versus the six to nine months (or longer) that proprietary software sales cycles last.

The process for open-source companies is so fast because the prospects start using the software long before they contacted the vendor. On average, I'd put this pre-evaluation duration at three to six months.

In traditional software sales cycles, you have to invent prospects' interest, nurture it along, and then close the deal, all without the customer really getting to experience the software. This can result in very expensive failures.

In open-source sales cycles, you don't really interact with a prospective customer until she has experienced the software for herself and wants something more, like a support subscription.

This is a tremendously powerful side effect of open source.

No, not all open-source software will be right for a given enterprise's requirements. But given the transparency of open-source software, would-be buyers should know well before they write a check and, worst case, they can stop paying their subscriptions if project priorities change or the software stops fitting their needs.

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