MIP Holdings has taken the plunge and migrated the majority of its users from proprietary software to open source. The management team at MIP made the decision to change after comparing the value their existing productivity applications delivered to the business against rising licensing and support costs.
"The days of seeing a browser or a word processor as a unique application that provided some advantage to business are long gone," says Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings. "Today, at least 95% of all work done using what we know as productivity tools is common across all organisations. Why then do employees need specialised, expensive tools to do these tasks when their functionality has become a commodity?"
Richard Firth, CEO of MIP Holdings
Starting with the browser, the company migrated its staff from Internet Explorer to Firefox without any loss of productivity. Next came an open source e-mail package, which again was managed with little interruption to business.
"When it comes to productivity applications, such as a word processor, spreadsheet or presentation package, we were more cautious in our migration plans," Firth adds. "While saving money is important, it costs more to install a cheaper application that does not allow users to do their jobs than an expensive application with all the functionality required."
Fortunately, the open source alternatives proved to be fully functional, stable and reliable solutions that were not difficult for users to adapt to. In extreme situations, power users may need more than these alternatives offer, but these users are rare. MIP, therefore, embarked on an upgrade project installing OpenOffice on its workstations.
The roll out went smoothly, again, with no users finding they could not complete their daily tasks on the new software. Firth says some of the functions in OpenOffice are accessible via different keystrokes or mouse clicks, but these changes are easily overcome with a little coaching.
"The savings on licence fees is enormous," he notes. "But most importantly, we are saving money without sacrificing productivity or limiting user functionality."
The next step in MIP's migration strategy is to examine Linux as an operating system (OS) alternative. While the OS is an important ingredient in any IT infrastructure, it no longer offers any competitive advantage as millions of users have the same system. It is therefore worthwhile to examine which users can be migrated to another, cheaper solution.
"Of course we would never simply migrate everything to Linux as part of some religious crusade," Firth states. "Our first priority is to ensure the company functions as normal, or better. However, when an expensive solution can no longer justify its price through adding more value or providing some type of advantage, it is time to examine your options?"
When changing operating systems there are additional precautions to take to ensure that all applications and data formats used in the company are compatible with the new OS. Those that are not, such as an accounting application, for example, will need to be kept on the older OS to ensure the continued stability of the departments concerned.
"Advances in the open source environment over the past few years have assured us that the majority of our systems can be migrated to open source, with dramatic cost savings," says Firth.
He warns, however, that while open source software is much cheaper and just as reliable as proprietary software, the migration process can not be initiated haphazardly. Careful planning and understanding of all the implications and possible knock-on effects must be undertaken before anyone touches a computer.
"As much as open source is a great solution in certain areas of business at a much lower cost than proprietary software, it must still be treated as any other software implementation with the appropriate research, planning and user training," concludes Firth. "Taking a technical approach and thinking you can figure out how to make it work after it is installed is not acceptable. Open source can save companies a tremendous amount of money over time, but if the project is approached unprofessionally it will, as many adverts claim, cost more."