October 21, 2013
As companies transition to more flexible IT platforms, they are searching for guidance on how to determine whether they should build their own application, use packaged applications from an ERP vendor, adopt an open source platform, or leverage a SaaS solution. It’s not an easy decision to make. Whether custom-built or vendor-based, projects can fail. Before making the transition, you should carefully consider the following differences surrounding support, customization and deployment.
All things being equal, the primary difference between open source and vendor products is the source of support. Open source support options are “do it yourself.” If you’re not equipped for DIY, you’ll need to reach out to a forum or community involved with that project. In contrast, vendor products provide you a number to call when you need help, which can be either good or bad depending on the responsiveness of your vendor. When an open source platform/product has reached critical mass, you will usually find companies that provide professional support (e.g Redhat, Hadoop and Oracle VirtualBox.)
Open source enhancements are usually quicker if you have a vibrant community. If you choose the vendor route, you’ll have better luck if your company is large. Vendors tend to listen to their biggest customers when developing their product roadmap. But, if a client’s processes stray too much from a vendor’s prescribed process, extra customization and work-arounds will eat up your savings. Moreover, when it comes time for vendor upgrades, maintenance can be challenging for highly customized products. The other challenge comes when major upgrades are required to stay in “support” for end-of-life products. If you don’t upgrade along with the pack, you should expect to pay absorbent fees for special support.
SaaS versus installed in-house is essentially a deployment difference. SaaS comes with a host of implications such as where does the data reside, how do you transport it securely over the Internet, and how do you integrate it with your existing platforms? Many SaaS vendors tend to support a specific function of a business that is well-defined and lends itself to being hosted externally. In addition, customization is usually more limited compared to a vendor product that is installed locally. Much like a vendor product, if your processes don’t fit in their SaaS model, you will have fewer options to make it work and will likely spend the majority of your time customizing your internal platforms to play nice with the SaaS vendor’s product. The benefit of SaaS is that product upgrades and maintenance can transpire without major involvement on the client’s side.
You have a host of Enterprise Architecture choice points to consider surrounding the adoption of proprietary, emerging or packaged software. As you decide to build, buy off-the-shelf or plunge into the realm of open source, weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each avenue thoroughly.