I used to skateboard when I was a teenager. This was during the times when Tony Hawk was in his prime…Powell Peralta was the number one skateboard company on the planet, and Thrasher magazine was the number one choice of reading material.
Most of my friends at that time all rode Powell Peralta boards. The thing is…I was always looking for an advantage…something that could give me a competitive street skating advantage or something that just plainly worked better.
I found that advantage in H-Street equipment. I began riding a naked H-Street board with H-Street Arrow wheels. Switched from tracker trucks to independent and changed my bearings from German to Swiss. I watched Hokus Pokus and idolized Danny Way. I was ridiculed. I was told that I didn’t know what I was doing. I was told that H-Street was no Powell Peralta. A year later, everyone had a Hokus Pokus poster on their wall and were trying to get the gear and equipment I had already purchased.
I’m not saying I’m a trend setter. I’m saying I recognized quality and functionality before most did. Many businesses today are exactly like my friends. They don’t want to change. They don’t recognize quality or something that can give them a competitve advantage (at least not until its too late in most cases).
Why is this? Why is it that many corporations and small to medium businesses cannot or will not take a step back and look at the competitive advantage and cost savings Linux and Open Source software will give their business?
Many large corporations are loaded with managers. Every section has a manager. A group of 2-3 sections has a manager. That manager has a manager. That manager also has a Deputy Director. That Deputy Director has an Executive Director, who in turn has a CIO/CTO who in turn has a CEO above them. Like an onion, so many layers it makes you want to cry.
I worked in a Fortune 500 company as a project manager and saw bureaucracy at work. In order to get anything accomplished, you have to portray a clear and present danger to how they operate with downtime or a large monetary savings/loss. Then and only then would your manager listen to you. After your manager listened, you had to wait some time before that information trickled up to the level of manager it needed to in order to have action take place.
There were times when half a million dollars wasted away while I waited on a manager to make a decision. Inefficiency eat your heart out.
As for Linux and a business like this…getting them to see the savings isn’t hard. They know if they didn’t have to buy antivirus for over 6 thousand desktops they’d save tons of money. They know that if they didn’t have to license the same number of office installs that they’d save an enormous amount of cash. This isn’t the problem. The problem is they don’t believe in the product. They don’t believe in the product because they haven’t used it before. It’s new. Anything new is a risk.
While you may get your manager to see these savings, getting his manager and the manager above them to see similar savings is like pulling teeth from a crocodile…dangerous and difficult. Change in organizations like this start from the top down. It’s hard for open source developers to swallow this because change for us, starts from the bottom up.
Equating Value with Cost, Price with Quality
Most businesses equate value with cost. Something is valuable to them if it costs them money. Linux of course, is free. So how can it be valuable to them? If it doesn’t cost them money…then it must be lower quality right? The open source model of software does not fit turnkey into the standard business model and defies the way analysts measure things.
How to solve this dilemma? Your guess is as good as mine. No one can force businesses to change their mind when it comes to value…it comes with time. There are some heads being turned by various open source programs such as OpenOffice and Firefox…but the tide is slow to roll.
Is it faulty to equate value with cost? I believe so. Value should be a quantifiable measurement and not a monetary one.
How can you help? Make open source valuable to your computing. Make open source valuable to the corporation where you work. Get the open source/linux foot in your door and let your managers and their managers see the value.
Change is Bad
Changing is always equated as costing money. This is due to the age old premise in project management that change midway through a project will cause scope creep and add cost/resource expenditure. For the most part, with projects, this is true. For many open source projects and programs however, it isn’t.
Take Firefox for example…it is a browser that has more control and configurability than Internet Explorer and is more secure than Internet Explorer. It has captured over a third of the browser market…nearing 2/5ths of the market. So why aren’t businesses embracing it?
They fear change.
This despite the fact that a browser is a browser. This despite the fact that it can be made to look exactly like IE. This despite the fact that my fifty something mother-in-law can use it with such ease that when she switched from IE it took her 30 minutes to adapt.
Linux on the desktop is one of the areas where business could harness such power. Saving anti-virus cost each year. Using the power of user/group management. Locking users down with ONE setting instead of having to lock users at multiple virtual layers. The list of benefits far outweighs (for many businesses…there are always exceptions to the rule) the leading edge time spent ramping up.
The time will come soon where managers who are in charge at all levels of big business are people who have never experienced life without a computer. They’ll be more savvy with technology. They’ll listen to ipods, use itunes, scrobble music, use bittorrent, plugin to facebook/plaxo/myspace. These managers are in the wings now and slowly making their way up corporate ladders. The older managers who can remember life without computers or with early computers are still holding on.
The change and fear is still there…the tide will slowly turn.
These new managers won’t fear change such as the one we mentioned above with Firefox. These new managers understand the technology and how long it takes people to adapt to it. To them, change isn’t a bad thing…it’s a good thing. The minimalistic time spent ramping up is counter to the amount of benefits you see returned by the switch.
These new managers recognize value in new things…they’re looking for an edge…just like I was with skateboarding. They’re not afraid to try something new. While it won’t happen over night, the ball is rolling and in the next 2-4 years the face of computing will change to embrace this.
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