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Open source to reset IT expectations

Enterprise IT seems to have very low expectations for the software it buys. Open source may well change that.

It boggles the mind, but it's apparently true: nearly half of enterprises think a software purchase is successful if the software is installed/deployed, according to a new study. If ever there was reason to believe there's room for improvement in enterprise IT, and billions of dollars to go with it, this is it.

Working software should be the starting point, not an end point.

According to a study recently released by Neochange, Sandhill Group, and the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), 45.3 percent of the 353 IT professionals surveyed call a software purchase successful if "the software is deployed/installed."

No, this isn't enterprise IT's only criterion for software success. After all, 75.4 percent pegged their aspirations a bit higher: "Business benefits realization (cost reduction, revenue generation, etc.)." (Note: respondents could choose more than one answer; hence, the results don't add up to 100 percent.)

But it's scary that the software industry has conditioned IT buyers to expect so little. No one should claim victory on the basis of getting software installed, and we should be hitting close to 100 percent actually getting tangible business value for their software investments.

But then, more than half the survey's respondents admitted to not even measuring success criteria. Could this be a sign that IT executives, like the sign greeting Dante on his descent into Hell, have abandoned all hope of getting real value for their software spend?

Things may be getting better. As reported on Tuesday, Google and Red Hat topped CIO Insight's Vendor Value survey. Times are tight, and enterprises apparently can't afford to call software purchases successful just for running as they should.

Red Hat's chief of European operations, Werner Knoblich, says as much in an interview with The Register:

Microsoft was untouchable until recently, but now everything gets considered, which is one of the reasons [Red Hat's] results have been pretty strong. Clearly a downturn is never good generically, it's a bad thing. But our value proposition resonates pretty well all the same.

In the case of both open source and SaaS, enterprises don't pay a dime until they actually see the software working. Working software is the default. It's not cause for special celebration.

The Neochange, et al, survey also asks, "What is the most important factor for realizing value from enterprise software?" The answer "Gaining user buy-in and ensuring effective usage to deliver business impact" garnered a 71.7 percent vote. That's more easily achieved with open-source software, in particular, which allows enterprises to evaluate and use software long before they opt to purchase support or add-on services/software (if, indeed, they ever elect to do so).

In this way, open source improves upon typical IT success. With more than half of those surveyed reporting "less than 49 percent effective software usage," there's clearly room for a better model to optimize software utilization.

We can do better. We must. About 30 percent of those surveyed look to software to enable "business innovation, revenue generation, and market competitiveness."

Such enterprises are increasingly looking to open source to serve as the foundation for innovation. This probably wasn't the "fundamental economic reset" Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had in mind, but it will do. And it's about time.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.