Stick with the ABC's of IT as open source is too risky

While open source software can deliver a low-cost business solution quickly, it was labelled too risky for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's new content management system, according to the organization's CIO.

In an exclusive interview with Computerworld, Colin Knowles, the ABC's CIO and head of technology, said open source was considered for a CMS solution, but would have been a "high risk strategy" because of the amount of development work required.

"You have to balance what is the risk of having to do development against being able to touch and feel the core elements of work," Knowles said.

"Our general view is we will acquire when we can and we are quite happy to shift the work practices to fit the last 20 percent rather than build 80 or 100 percent with all the risks of that."

The ABC is still in contract negotiations with CMS vendors and will not announce the chosen supplier until a final decision is made. It has also formed a technology strategy group with a view to facilitating debate about real and disruptive technological trends.

Knowles said there are plenty of examples of organizations which started building their own applications and five years later "they are still building".

"And then they are frightened to give it up, because they've spent too much money on it," he said.

"You've really got to get short runs. I like to think most of our projects have a six-month deliverable [and] if it doesn't deliver, be prepared to chop it off at the socks rather than keep putting money into it."

Knowles said trying to fix problems can be like the gambler's problem - "I'll put another bet down, because I might cut my losses [but] eventually you go bankrupt".

The concepts of source code access and not being reliant on one vendor for support are valid, according to Knowles, but a decision to deploy open source comes back to risk management.

"Open source in a lot of cases may well be the low-risk strategy, but you need to be careful of where you are going with it," he said. "You've got to say 'would I go and develop a financial management system or will I work with an SAP and so on'."

In addition to risk evaluation, IT managers should also consider whether they will be "any better off at the end of the day".

"Do I need to employ plumbers and the plumber unblocks four drains a month, or when I have a major plumbing job I call in a contractor?" Knowles said.

"Open source in some cases will deliver exactly what I want cheaply and quickly. In another case it might be I have to develop a whole lot of skills and knowledge and re-invent a whole lot of stuff that's already available in a box. It is a trade-off and we certainly look at open source from that point of view."

On the apparent rise in prominence of open source, Knowles said it is taking "a long time to be disruptive" and its publicity is "an advocacy of those who wish to [push] open source".

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