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Open Source for the Enterprise by Gautam Guliani, Dan Woods

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Where to Buy, Where to Build

The best IT departments have a clear philosophy about when to buy and when to build. Some companies, such as General Motors, are very buy-leaning, and they have decided to focus on creating an IT department that knows how to buy. All IT at General Motors is outsourced. Some companies, such as Ernie Ball, the guitar-string maker, have foresworn use of commercial software. This doesn’t mean they have created all the software they used from scratch, but it does mean they have taken on more responsibility for themselves to build and maintain skills. In aggressively adopting open source, Ernie Ball has become more build-leaning.

In Chapter 5, which discussed how to create an open source strategy, we introduced the idea of stable, flexible, and dynamic systems. The suggestion is that stable systems change infrequently, flexible systems change every one or two years, and dynamic systems change all the time.

The question of where to be more buy-leaning or build-leaning depends most heavily on the role that IT plays in a business. Is IT’s role to provide and support a collection of stable systems, or is IT charged with delivering systems that provide a competitive advantage? The more that IT’s mission involves stable systems, the more buy-leaning it will be, although much open source is maturing rapidly enough to be a plausible alternative for buy-leaning departments that have beginner or intermediate skill levels.

When an IT department is delivering systems to ...

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