Open-source projects to provide corporate benefits?

Could open-source projects offer corporate benefits? If Accenture can, why not open source?

I spent some time talking with an Accenture veteran this morning, and came away with an intriguing idea: enable open-source projects to provide corporate benefits like health insurance to their developers so that they can ditch their day jobs to focus on their open-source passion.

If you've ever started a small business, you know that getting "enterprise-grade" benefits like health insurance is very difficult. At Alfresco, for example, we ultimately joined a PEO (Professional Employer Organization) called Trinet [PDF], which aggregates many smaller companies to negotiate insurance plans with companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield that would normally not consider providing small companies insurance.

Yes, individuals can get insurance, but it tends to be very expensive to go it alone.

In the recession there will be an increasing number of people that lose their jobs, but there will also be a rising number of enterprises that need to maintain legacy systems, build new ones, and otherwise drive innovation and productivity while cutting costs. As more companies turn to open source for this benefit, why couldn't open-source projects "employ" more of their developers to provide basic corporate benefits like health insurance?

Developers would pay into the project a nominal fee/commission on services rendered to cover the project's cost of administrative overhead. But the developer would take care of financial arrangements with the end-customer. The project would simply be an administrator of benefits like health insurance and would be responsible for maintaining the brand.

This would enable more developers to have flexibility, benefits, and an organization to help improve their personal brands. It would also lead to better open-source software. It would enable a Maven developer, for example, to spend even more time working on Maven without going hungry.

Ultimately, a consulting organization like Accenture really is nothing more than an aggregation of personal brands, one that serves as a pseudo-guarantee of quality to a customer. When General Mills hires Accenture, it's doing so to ensure a steady, predictable stream of quality services.

Open-source projects can provide this Accenture-like benefit, as well. What am I missing? Is this a bad idea or does it have potential?

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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