I've known Jon Williams, chief technology officer of Kaplan Test, for a few years, and have always been impressed by his active involvement in the technology world. He blogs. He helps to run a New York CTO breakfast club. He keeps involved with various open-source communities. He's an ideal CTO.
Given Jon's background, one statement that he made in his opening remarks particularly impressed me:
I don't use open source because it's free....I use open source because it works.
Jon then offered up several key benefits derived from open source at Kaplan Test:
- Offers the latest, greatest technology;
- Highly customizable ("Open source is an excellent compromise with my developers, who might be prone to a build bias. With open source, I can let them start with an open-source project and they simply tailor it to our needs");
- Low barrier to entry;
- Low start-up costs - You get the software running and pay only for maintenance;
- Community-based, which provides great sources of help and references;
- Incredible staff retention tool - Helps to motivate and retain top talent.
It's therefore not surprising that Jon would declare:
Open source is the software of choice in a "connected" world.
Indeed. But how does an enterprise make the most of open-source development and deployment?
In Kaplan's case, Jon indicated that he's seeing more and more three-way development and implementation. That is, Kaplan works with a systems integration partner (Rivet Logic in some recent work), the open-source vendor, and its own development staff. Open source makes innovation a two-way street, and puts that innovation back in the hands of the customer.
All that glitters is not gold, however. Jon indicated that Kaplan Test has had some issues with open source relative to the following:
- Some open-source products are simply too early - they're not mature enough;
- Some staff have resisted open source;
- The larger the open-source vendors become, there is concern that they will operate more and more like traditional software vendors (albeit with an open-source license);
- We haven't been successful contributing back to the community, which comes down to several issues, including legal ones.