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Asking the wrong questions on open-source adoption

CIOs don't separate out open source in their budgets, so why should surveys?

It used to make sense to talk about open source as a separate line item in the enterprise IT lexicon. However, open source has become such a standard way of delivering enterprise IT that maybe it's time to update the lexicon. It no longer makes sense to ask CIOs whether they plan to "deploy open source" as if it's somehow a separate and distinct question from, say, "Do you plan to deploy new database servers?" The questions are largely one and the same.

Apparently Baseline didn't get the memo though a few weeks ago it carried an article talking about how pervasive open source has become in enterprise IT. On Monday, Baseline published the annual "CIO Insight's 2009 IT Spending," and makes the mistake of treating open source as a separate entity:

Top IT spending priorities for 2009 Baseline Magazine

That doesn't look very good for open source, but the real data is almost certainly buried in the answers given to other questions.

According to the survey, 70 percent of chief information officers surveyed plan to spend money on database software, with the 2009 budget for such spending set to rise by 4 percent. Forty percent are budgeting for corporate portals, 33 percent for ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems, and so on. I'm willing to bet that a rising share of this spending includes open-source software, though it may not be called out as such.

Why am I so sanguine? Because I live in this market. One anecdotal example among many: a large financial services company with which I had talked two years ago called me last Friday. The enterprise architect told me that while two years ago open source was deemed too risky for his company to implement, today "wasting money on expensive, proprietary software is considered a career-limiting move, and open source is now in the driver's seat on a range of new projects."

The risk profile had changed, and open source is now considered a great way to de-risk IT investment.

When the ultimate decision is made, however, it won't be because the software is open source. It will be because the software has the right functionality, ease-of-use, and performance at the right price. The CIO won't buy it because it's open source. She'll buy it because it works.

It's time to stop calling out open source as a separate line item in these surveys. IT budgets don't do so, so why should surveys? CIOs are voting for the effects of open source in their IT environments, regardless of whether it's called out. Open source is furniture now: everyone has it, but perhaps they don't think about it.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.