Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond’s [1] LinuxCon keynote [2] kicked off with the announcement that open source had crossed the IT adoption chasm. Hammond’s data, drawn from five Forrester, Eclipse and Dr. Dobbs surveys over the past two years, showed nearly 80 percent of organizations are using open source software in IT development projects. The survey results also found that IT executives were much more pragmatic about increasing open source usage and that software developers are increasingly important to product selection decisions.

Expanding open source usage isn’t a top priority
When IT executives were asked “how important are each of the following business goals to your internal IT organization when making software decisions?”, they rated “Increase the use of OSS” as follows:

Forrester survey results

Interestingly, 47 percent of IT decision makers selected a “1” or “2” in 2009, implying that expanding the usage of open source is not a business goal for their organization when making software decisions. This is a full 10 percent higher than IT executives that selected a “1” or “2” to the similar question in 2008.

On the other end of the spectrum, only 8 percent of 2009 respondents, down from 9 percent in 2008, stated at expanding open source usage was a very important business goal when making a software selection decision.

Keep in mind that the survey question states “when making software decisions”. As such, an IT organization could consider the expanded usage of open source as a non factor during software selection, and yet select an open source product for a given project based on the product’s characteristics beyond simply being open source. The converse is true from respondents that selected “very important” as their response – they may very well select a closed source product based on project needs.

The survey results indicate that the vast majority of IT decision makers select software based on its ability to meet their business requirements, not whether the product is open source or not. And yet, the minority, who have either decided to reject closed source software or open source software, get the most attention in today’s IT folklore.

The results are very much in line with customers I’ve interacted with, or whose stories I’ve been told by colleagues on the IBM WebSphere sales team. Even as little as a year ago, customers were much more likely to state “we’re moving everything to open source” or “we’ll never touch an open source product”. Today, it’s common to utilize a mixture of open source and closed source products.

If your company is in the minority that has rejected either open source or closed source software in its selection processes, you must ask why your competitors are making a different decision.

Developers the new king makers?
Another key finding from Hammond is that the software decision making process is tipping towards developers, away from IT executives. Hammond states:

More than ever: Developers can block – or significantly aid the adoption of software!

Developers are much more willing to recommend products that they are already productive with. This has been a boon for open source products which are free for developers to use and gain experience with. It’s no surprise that traditional software vendors now offer developer editions of their respective software at no charge, in order to match their open source competition.

Hammond goes on to explain that IT executives are beginning to reassert control over the software selection process. As such, Hammond provides the following advice for software vendors:

To win you must drive adoption and affirmation through developers, and purchases through management

This will be an interesting power struggle to watch play out across IT department. It’s important to again recall the lack of importance that IT executives put into “increasing open source usage” as a business goal. Software vendors, open source or not, that meet the needs of developers and other key stakeholders, such as the operations teams and administrators, while integrating well with existing infrastructure have an opportunity to secure the IT executive’s selection vote.

Who holds the balance of power in the software selection process at your company?

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues [4]. I should [5] state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”

Matt is interviewed at Dana’s open source blog at ZDNet.

“We sell primarily to places that also use Java, to companies that care about open source, and there are a lot. Open source is becoming a default for large companies. I’m seeing that more and more.”

There’s some truth in “companies that care about open source”, but the story is incomplete.

To complete the story, let’s look at this chart from a Forrester study that Matt previously wrote about. If you can’t read the figures, here’s the full report (See pg. 6). The #1 attribute of open source that enterprise decision makers care most about: “Supporting open standards”.

Open source doesn’t guarantee open standards. But as the data indicates, the key attribute of OSS in the eyes of enterprise decision makers is open standards. OSS vendor/buyer/user beware.

We should note that the third most important OSS attribute: “Not being locked in to a single vendor” is delivered through open standards, not open source.

The second most important OSS attribute “using without restrictions” is something I’ll challenge in a future post.

Excluding these top 3 OSS attributes, the remaining are truly linked with open source. Amusing to see that, essentially, “using for free” is the highest ranked OSS attribute remaining. OSS vendors are living with/through this attribute on a daily basis as they grow their businesses.