Culture

Open-source Sunday School: Two masters

You need options to effectively drive vendors to serve customer needs.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. (Matthew 6:24)

To be truly disruptive, open source is best when it is of one mind, as it were. I've never been a fan of hybrid licensing models primarily because they take a company in two different directions: one is all about opening up, and the other is all about closing off. How do you reconcile the two?

But the verse has more poignancy, I feel, as it regards IT departments. Relating back to last week's post on software development being about more than just "bread" (i.e., money, security), it turns out that many IT departments cede the sovereignty of their IT to a vendor. They want to focus on their "business," whatever that is, and so leave IT to the experts (namely, someone other than them) to feed them.

This called to mind a passage from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, which I'm in the middle of re-reading. The passage comes from the chapter entitled, "The Grand Inquisitor," and has the leader of the Spanish Inquisition arguing that bread buys human allegiance, and not something intangible like faith:

...[N]ever was there anything more unbearable to the human race than personal freedom! Dost Thou see these stones in the desolate and glaring wilderness? Command that these stones be made bread--and mankind will run after Thee, obedient and grateful like a herd of cattle....

Oh, never, never, will they learn to feed themselves without our help! No science will ever give them bread so long as they remain free, so long as they refuse to lay that freedom at our feet, and say: "Enslave, but feed us!"...Thou has promised to them the bread of life, the bread of heaven; but I ask Thee again, can that bread ever equal in the sight of the weak and the vicious, the ever ungrateful human race, their daily bread on earth?...

Thou didst know, Thou couldst not be ignorant of, that mysterious fundamental principle in human nature, and still thou hast rejected the only absolute banner offered Thee, to which all the nations would remain true, and before which all would have bowed--the banner of earthly bread, rejected in the name of freedom and of "bread in the kingdom of God"! Behold, then, what Thou hast done furthermore for that "freedom's" sake! I repeat to Thee, man has no greater anxiety in life than to find some one to whom he can make over that gift of freedom with which the unfortunate creature is born.

Truly one of the most terrifying sections in all of literature, and yet too often true. While some IT departments have taken the challenge to be more self-sufficient and innovative, others outsource any real thought about IT to their vendors. With gaping mouths, they beg for more white papers, product data sheets, and such to justify their continued plodding down the vendors' path.

They get what they pay (too much) for: a long-term debt consolidation plan with the vendor.

This is not to say that proprietary vendors don't deliver considerable value. Of course they do. It's just that no buyer should put absolute faith in any one vendor to provide the bulk of its needs. Yes, it requires more thought and effort to shop around for the best of breed, but doing so will help an IT departments and its vendors to consistently provide better-than-average software solutions.

But IT departments have to choose. Either they opt for innovation and choice or they succumb to complacency and buy from a single source. The two are mutually incompatible. So are the results.