Open source software offers numerous benefits for organizations in every industry. Most obviously, firms can save a tremendous amount of money by utilizing these offerings rather than building their own code from the ground up.
Ten years ago, two American universities recognized these advantages and formed a plan to encourage the use of open source software for college administration. As The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported, this effort has grown significantly since this time, and recently reached a new height.
Open source for colleges
The news source noted that the initiative, first announced by the University of Hawaii and Indiana University in 2004, aimed to develop a free enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that could be used by any college or university. Commercial ERP systems for academic institutions often cost tens of millions of dollars in licensing fees and maintenance expenses.
This project eventually developed into the Kuali Foundation, which now includes 74 dues-paying member institutions. The foundation provides a suite of open source solutions for higher education purposes, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted.
"The argument from the beginning was, the path that many institutions are on is unnecessarily expensive," said Brad Wheeler, chairman of the Kuali Foundation, the news source reported.
Jennifer Foutty, executive director of the foundation, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that 21 colleges currently use the Kuali Foundation's financial system offering, while 10 colleges use its research-administration system. Two institutions aim to embrace the Foundation's library-management system in the near future, and more than 24 now use a Kuali middleware offering that supports business apps.
As these figures demonstrate, adoption of Kuali's open source software solutions is still in a relatively early stage. However, Susan Menditto, director of accounting policy at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, predicted that more institutions will make the switch in the coming years.
"I have no reason to believe that [migration] won't continue, especially as they get HR and payroll and student up and running," Menditto said, according to the news source. "I see there being much more of a migration and an interest."
The first school to embrace the Kuali financial system, Colorado State University, has experienced significant success with the offering. Deploying the open source solution cost the school between $1.3 and $1.7 million, but saved the school several million dollars, according to Patrick J. Burns, vice president for information technology.
"I think Kuali is at a tipping point," said Burns, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. "It will be interesting to look over the next decade to see where it goes. It is such a wonderful model for us."
For its part, the Kuali Foundation is optimistic about the future, as its leaders firmly believe that open source solutions are key for enabling colleges and universities to confront evolving software challenges without massive expenditures.
Open source challenges
However, it is important to note that adopting open source solutions does not automatically eliminate an organization's need to focus on software development issues.
"Open source is not a free beer, it's a free puppy," explained Kenneth C. Green of Campus Computing, the news source reported. "If I give you a free puppy, well, you have got some significant costs for that puppy in terms of attention, care, maintenance and support."
This is true for all organizations, not just those in higher education. Open source solutions must be modified and managed by users in order to keep these programs safe and effective. Developers need to select the most relevant options from all available open source programs to maximize performance and value for their firms.
This is easier said than done. Countless firms struggle with open source software governance, and consequently fail to take full advantage of these offerings. There are many reasons for these challenges, including the difficulty of tracking which specific offerings are being utilized within a large organization.
To avoid this problem, firms eager to embrace open source software must invest in high-quality open source support offerings. Choosing the right tool set can enable developers to craft the ideal policy and manage the specific solutions deployed throughout their organizations.