Here is a summary of the feedback I got from a posting sent to 6 different ListServs last Monday. Thanks to those that responded:
1. First, there was no reference to any published results from such a study? A business student would probably be best for a study that actually compiled the numbers and did the statistics for hours spent by professionals on the professional tasks like organizing, describing and reference services as well for professionals more involved with getting the technology to work.
2. The responses seemed to support a study by Gartner Research that predicts Software as a Service (SaaS) overtaking open source as a cost cutting choice by 2012.
3. Some people seemed to take exception to my question being posed and accused me of using the listserv for advertizing. I did mention “In our consulting work with archivists …” – not really blatant promotion. The irony is that the complaints came from associations that endorse and even subsidize consultants that charge for service related to open source.
Here are the quotes from some of the responses from the various listservs. In interest of space, they are taken out of context.
· “Nothing is really free... there are costs and trade-offs associated with both approaches.”
· “It's certainly a challenge finding people with the right skill set.”
· “Yes, and aren't there open source service providers who, for a price, will administer, train, and even host open source solutions?”
· “Realistically, is there any real difference between these "hidden" costs for Free and Open software and using proprietary software?”
· “I've seen both sides - OSS that slowly died and was forgotten and Proprietary (collections) software where the vendor seems to have gradually lost interesting in actually doing any serious upgrading or providing support...”
· “I question whether this debate is best posed by a commercial entity trying to sell us software.” – (from a list member)
· “…note that commercial advertisements are not welcome.” – (directly from the association)
----------------- original posting sent Mon 23/06/2008 ------------------------
The cost of free software?
In our consulting work with archivists we are asked for numbers that represent the cost of free software and open source solutions, especially when comparing them to supported commercial software or Software as a Service. How do you price the hidden costs for things such as?
• Opportunity loss for the delay of projects while the professional staff is learning technical skills,
• The costs of re-training the archives professionals in the technical skills,
• The cost of redirecting the professionals into technical tasks and away from professional duties,
• The cost of teaching in-house computer programmers about the requirements of archives applications,
• The productivity loss if support is not available or responsive to software downtime,
• The risk cost when support that might be available today is discontinued; or is free today and may become billable or discontinued entirely,
• The risk-factor cost for the eventuality that in a couple of years the software product is no longer endorsed by professional associations and subsidized by various organizations. You are stuck with it while the current excitement is about a new the “flavor of the month” technology.
It is easy to find anecdotal stories from the past, but I expect there has been an academic study reported somewhere. Please forward any information you might have about such a study. Failing that, even some general statements of your personal experience would be great if they could be quoted to my clients.