June 11, 2024

Open Source means Open Opportunities: Why SMEs Are Switching

Unlock Growth with Open Source: The Worst Kept Secret in Business. Discover why savvy small to medium enterprises are embracing this strategy, not just for cost savings but for a world of new opportunities

An overview of open source software for SMEs.

A large part of the appeal that drew me to a career in software, is the ability to copy and paste. That simple action underpins a great deal of value you don’t get in other more physical industries. Every piece of work you do is an asset generated - an asset that can iterated, automated, analysed, duplicated, and shared a billion times with almost zero expense.

It’s this very dynamic that supports a bottomless pit of open-source software (OSS) projects.

Open Source: Free accessible code, aimed at fostering innovation through public community collaboration.
Closed Source: Privately held code, designed to protect intellectual property and monetize software.

Flexibility

Let’s imagine for a moment that the incumbent finance officer of your business is allergic to the colour blue; the same colour as the expense approval form’s submit button. If the form is in a managed, closed source application, you’ll never get that corporate golf retreat in the Maldives approved. However, with editable source code and the right developers on your side, that button will be green, gold or grey within the week and you’ll be in the chipping in for birdie with prospective clients in no time.

Self hosting & Data Sovereignty:

With sometimes as little as a “ctrl+c” and “ctrl+v”, open-source software can be running in a private network or in a consolidated cloud environment. This approach gives businesses unparalleled control and oversight in their IT operations.

Market:

It might be cliché, but, open source projects are largely dictated by supply and demand. Via this dynamic, they’re a key regulator the software market. When a compelling piece of closed source software enters the market with a high price tag, cost sensitive developers are compelled to develop alternatives. They find they can do so faster with teams of people facing the same problems, and thus an open source project is born. Operating systems to databases to user facing applications have well regarded open source options. In fact, open source databases are ubiquitous – its estimated that there are more SQLite databases than humans on earth.

This widespread availability is typical in the open source ecosystem, where it’s challenging to find mature paid software without a compelling open-source counterpart (unless it's nestled away in some niche). Additionally, the open nature of these projects facilitates global collaboration more effectively than closed-source environments. As open source projects tackle common problems, they foster a cycle of continuous feedback and rapid iteration on a global scale, enhancing both the software’s development and its utility worldwide.

Mixed Model:

I love thinking about servers, an obsession I probably don’t share with the average business owner. With the busy (non-server-centric)business owners in mind, many operators have sprung up specialising in the bulk delivery/hosting of a single open source project. Typically, software delivered through this model is exceptionally cost effective, but suffers from the same inflexibility, lack of control, and unknown 3rd party dependency that categorises traditionally delivered software.

What it means for business (Executive facing Tools we’ve worked with)

As much as we happen to love software for the sake of software, we’re conscious that it only exists in the service of a business’ physical needs. That’s why we’ve curated a small list of the open source tools that we’ve worked on, hosted or delivered for clients.

WordPress

WordPress is a ubiquitous flexible content management system the simplifies the creation and management of websites. It runs over 40% of sites on the internet. Its user-friendly interface allows even those without technical expertise to build and maintain sites. It has an extensive range of themes and plugins makes it a versatile tool for personal blogs, portfolios, or full-fledged business websites.

Frappe: Next ERP

Frappe is an company that backs, builds and maintains an ecosystem of open source business centric tools. Their flagship tool is an Enterprise Resource Planning site “ERPNext” that can handle your invoicing, accounting, client management and even ecommerce. It’s extensible with a substantial ecosystem of plugins and best of all its fully self-hostable.

Moodle

A feature rich learning management system (LMS) that, you guessed it, is also extensible and customisable with plugins. It’s designed for scalability and customisation making it suitable for schools, universities, and internal structured business training activities. It enables businesses to deliver tailored training programs and courses. Some of the common plugins provide functionality like automated grading, user analytics, payment gateways and .

Apache Superset

Apache Superset is a data visualization and business intelligence tool that facilitates data exploration and sharing of analytics dashboards. It was first built as an internal tool for AirBNB. As such, It's built to handle large-scale data sets, making it suitable for enterprises needing to integrate and visualize complex data quickly and efficiently.

AI Models

With AI as topical as it is, we’d be remiss not to mention our favourite open source LLM in this list. Llama 3 is an open-source AI model developed and published by Meta. While not quite as performant as ChatGPT 4, it is opensource, self-hostable and fine-tuneable for your own business needs. Understandably it’s currently untenable for many businesses to invest in (or fully utilise) the hardware required to performantly run the models. However, they’ve been commoditized by an ever-growing market of cloud providers who host them at a fraction of the cost of OpenAI.

Bookstack

BookStack is a straightforward, platform for managing documentation. It organizes information in a structured format, ideal for businesses needing a clear, accessible way to store project documents, manuals, and guidelines, enhancing knowledge management and accessibility within teams. Being self-hostable and having a customisable role-based access system, it’s suitable for businesses that wish to securely store their documentation in a consumable and useful format.

Developer Tools We love

Docker:

Docker, launched in 2013, has eliminated a large part of the complexity of deploying and scaling software. It works by providing a standardised approach to “containerising” applications where they are packaged alongside all of their dependencies into a discrete unit. This tool ensures that an application performs consistently across different computing environments. This can significantly simplify the operation of a business’ IT infrastructure; particularly as their requirements scale.

Apache Foundation:

Established in 1999, the Apache Software Foundation emerged from a group of developers involved with the Apache HTTP Server. Not being a single project, the Foundation supports a broad portfolio of open-source software projects, providing a robust framework that promotes sustainable development and reduces legal risks. Its initiatives are critical in maintaining a healthy ecosystem for software innovation and collaboration.

Python/PyPI:

Developed by Guido van Rossum and first released in 1991, Python is a “high-level” programming language that emphasizes simplicity and readability, its an ideal choice for rapid development. The Python Package Index (PyPI), launched in 2003, is a repository that facilitates easy sharing, management and consumption of open source code, helping to accelerate project deliveries. Due to it’s ease of abstraction and robust package ecosystem, it’s quickly become the preferred tool in the model development/consumption space.

RedwoodJS:

Created by GitHub co-founder Tom Preston-Werner in 2020, RedwoodJS integrates several other modern technologies into a comprehensive web application framework. Designed and marketed as “The Web Framework for Startups” it provides a blazing fast development experience and essentially unlimited customizability. It’s our favourite choice for starting and validating new applications.

Drawbacks

As anyone who’s been following American politics in the last few years will attest, democracy is sometimes a double edged sword; Unfortunately this holds in software development. The nature of open-source software often prioritizes feature development over security, reliability, and consistency. This can make it challenging to use in environments where safety and stability are paramount. While some open-source projects are developed with commercial rigor before being released, this isn't always the case. The varying maturity and adherence to standards in open-source projects can also complicate governance and make them less suitable for critical applications.

The development of open-source software can be unpredictable, often leading to quirks, inconsistencies and head scratching. The decentralized, community-driven approach can result in a patchwork of features and fixes, generally requiring more effort to maintain and integrate into business systems.

Conclusion

In conclusion, open source software stands out as a critical resourcing opportunity for SMEs, offering not just cost savings but also unparalleled adaptability in an ever-evolving digital landscape. The ability to customize, scale and experiment with IT operations rapidly can provide a significant strategic advantage.

Embracing open source is not without its challenges—it demands a proactive approach to security and maintenance to prevent potential vulnerabilities and ensure seamless integration into your business processes.

For decision-makers, the choice to integrate open source should be aligned with long-term business objectives, considering its strengths in enhancing operational efficiency and innovation capacity. With careful planning and robust governance, open source software can enable faster responses to market changes and foster a culture of continuous improvement.

Ultimately, by choosing the right opensource solutions and managing them effectively, you can not only meet current needs but position your business as a flexible, forward-thinking contributor.

If you're considering the shift to open source software and need some guidance, or simply have questions, press Ctrl+D to bookmark this page and feel free to reach out. We're here to help you navigate this transition smoothly as you move to optimise your enterprise software budget and results.