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How Do You Sell Open Source to Management?Manage two little words: "Fear" and "Greed"

How Do You Sell Open Source to Management?Manage two little words: "Fear" and "Greed"

Linux's time has come. I'm convinced of it. You're probably convinced of it too, or you wouldn't be reading this! But what about your management? Are they convinced? Can you be successful if they aren't? More importantly, how do you convince them?

This article explores the challenges in selling "open source" to management. (It's probably pretty useful as well to managers who want to gain the benefits of open source software, but don't know how to manage the risk associated with making the change.) While these ideas apply to Linux directly, they can really be applied to any open source technology.

The keys to success lie in understanding how to see both sides of the equation. First, understand yourself and the technology you want to use. Second, understand management's motivations and the buttons you can push to help you get your way.

Convincing Yourself

Success, it is said, happens "when preparation meets opportunity." In this case, convincing yourself is the most critical part of preparation.

Convincing yourself mean making sure the technology you want to use is "ready for prime time." In the case of Linux, this means making sure the particular application you want to use is solid.

Before opening your mouth and committing to delivering an application by a fixed date, consider these rules:

Rule No. 1: Wait until at least a "1.0 release" - please!

I know it's tempting. I've been there and had to pull myself back from the edge. But if you commit to going to production using a product that's not ready, you may find yourself in the computer room at 1 a.m. the night before acceptance testing checking flight schedules to Jamaica or surfing monster.com.

Rule No. 2: Look for an active committer base

I don't mean just a single individual, either. Look for projects where there are commits from a dedicated group happening every day. These are the teams that respond quickly when a major bug is found.

Rule No. 3: Monitor the mailing lists for a while

Are questions routinely answered the same day (or within minutes or hours) by two or more people? Imagine that the questions asked were yours - and that hitting launch date was dependent upon somebody answering. Do you trust that someone would be there for you?

Rule No. 4: (Most importantly) Use the software

Find some little out-of-the-way application where you can test it out. The application doesn't have to be big - but it should be something you use for a while to see how things go.

For example, I'm going to have to build an e-mail processing app next spring and I've been considering using Jakarta James for it. James has some very cool technologies for building mail apps that may be really useful. So I installed James on one of our servers and built some JUnit tests for testing code I have right now that sends e-mail. Every time I do a build now, I'm running these tests that exercise my e-mail code by sending e-mail to James and reading it back.

Over the next few months I'll monitor the testing to see if I ever lose messages, or if I have to restart the server often or have other problems. Hopefully I'll get a good feeling for how reliable it is.

Convincing Your Boss

So once you've convinced yourself, how do you convince your DLPHB (Dilbert-Like Pointed-Haired Boss)? How do you convince management you should be using open source?

The answer's simple: by managing these two words - Fear and Greed.

The Greed part is obvious. Your manager wants to get ahead, right? Managers get ahead by saving money, hitting deadlines, and delivering quality. OS can help them do all of these. Use these arguments:

1. Open source means no cost. This translates to:
- No spending time with sales people
- No getting purchase orders signed
- No annual maintenance agreements to budget for
- No user licenses to keep track of
- No contracts for review by the company lawyers

2. Hitting deadlines can be easier:
- Support responses in minutes or hours
- Having source code helps isolate bugs faster
- Drawing on the experience of other users is easier

3. Delivering quality because:
- "Many eyes on the code" means bugs are found quickly.
- All bug listings are online. If there are bugs, you know about them.
- If all else fails, you can fix the code yourself if you need to.

Managing the Fear part is trickier, though not impossible. It can be harder, because most of the things managers are afraid of can't be easily quantified. Managers fear things like:

4. The open source project will disappear.
Successful OS projects don't just go away. Assuming you've done your homework and this project is good, the user base will stick around. Even if the project goes away, you still have all the source code - which is more than a vendor going out of business will give you.

5. The open source project is some "cool" technology that you want to play with.

Managers sometimes think programmers just like to play with new technologies all the time. That's because many programmers actually do like to play with new technologies all the time.

Look in the mirror here. This is where you make or break the decision. Have you used the product internally for a while? Do you have a prototype? Can you give a demonstration? You can succeed here if you've done your homework and you can communicate things clearly.

Communicating clearly sometimes means talking in "business terms." It means talking about saving money, or speeding up delivery, or having an easier time hiring experienced people.

As an example of how to put together a presentation on for management, I've made available a PowerPoint presentation to help sell manager-types on using Jakarta Struts. It's yours to use free - you can download it at the companion site for my book, Struts Kick Start.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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