Supporting Internal Open Source Evangelists

Free and Open Source software is often being introduced through the back door in SMBs as well as large corporations. In-house developers can any time download it at no cost and install it to see if it fits the requirements for internal projects. Due to this kind of go-to-market strategy, MySQL’s Marten Mickos once stated: “We don’t believe in converting.”

The question is: How about internal converting? How about the day, when in-house developers need to justify the use of FOSS to their managers when they seek to consolidate the corporate IT infrastructure? Will FOSS speak for itself?

That’s the day, when enthusiastic in-house developers should start to act and regard themselves as internal Open Source evangelists. They will attempt to build support for FOSS within their organization to establish it as part of the IT landscape. What can they do in favor of FOSS and what should FOSS vendors and projects do to support them?

As much as it is important in the public to achieve a critical mass of FOSS supporters, it is critical within organizations to convince the critical minds, i.e. the decision makers. Here are some points how internal evangelists should be supported:

  1. Internal Open Source evangelists might face the problem of being “the prophets in their own land”. They need to be supported in any possible way by external “objective” sources. For example, through publicly available marketing and sales material highlighting the business benefits of a certain FOSS product. Furthermore, FOSS vendors could have sales staff visit on site and talk to management directly. In general, it is highly important that there is enough easily accessible marketing material provided by FOSS vendors and projects that allow internal evangelists to pick or develop good arguments. A common mistake, especially by FOSS vendors is to hide valuable information, asuming that it will make potential clients call them, while it actually hurts the back door go-to-market strategy.
  2. The still growing momentum and usually positive media coverage helps internal evangelists to advocate FOSS within their organization by refering to success stories.
  3. The best argument in favor of FOSS is a working implementation. Given the easy availability and access to FOSS source code, in-house developers can quickly set up a proof-of-concept or even specific simple solutions for internal use.

In general, FOSS might benefit from general organizational changes going on in today’s companies that reward inidividual and bottom-up initiatives. Flat hierarchies are supposed to avoid the problem that the person actually purchasing software is not the person actually using it. Technical staff that enjoys building IT solutions with Free and Open Source software that actually works as advertised will not be frustrated by software purchased due to mesmerizing sales presentations.

FOSS as a movement can actually support companies in becoming more efficient and effective, not only in terms of TCO, but also in terms of reduced staff turnover and more innovation, because it supports a more open and egalitarian corporate culture. Once these two phenomena converge, proprietary vendors will have a hard time matching such a corporate culture and yes, then we won’t have to believe in converting any longer.

I am looking forward to discussing aspects of internal FOSS evangelism at the German OSMB workshop on FOSS as part of an IT strategy taking place Thursday, Jan 29, 11-13:00 together with moderator Heinrich Seeger (Heise) and the other panelists Matthew Langham (Indiginox), Dr. Uwe Schmid (McKinsey), Kristian Raue (Jedox).

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