As open-source software becomes increasingly important to the corporate infrastructure, IT staffs are beginning to contribute to the code bases—not just at night and on weekends but on company time. Barry Strasnick, CIO of CitiStreet, a benefits management company, sometimes turns his programmers loose on the open-source Web server program Apache—if their work has a direct benefit for the company. “We will do it on an ad hoc basis,” says Strasnick. “It has to be a small project, and the benefits have to come back to me in six months, not 18.”
“The quality of open source has become so high that there is now the incentive for companies to pay the staff to work on them because they reap the rewards,” says Lee Hughes, CIO of Owens Forest Products, a manufacturer of interior doors and flooring. Hughes is working with open-source consultant JasperSoft to rebuild Owens’ business intelligence system on top of open-source software, including JasperReports (open-source BI software), Tomcat (an application server) and Postgres (a database). But there are key pieces missing—namely a set of generic user interfaces and business rules that link to the open-source infrastructure. “It’s basically turnkey except for those pieces,” he says. Hughes’s staff is tiny (three or four programmers), but as he expands to five or six in 2006, he wants to devote one programmer full-time to R&D—including contributing to open-source projects. “Tomcat and Postgres cut our development time for this project by a third,” he says. “If we had those other pieces, we could cut it by another third. It pays to have a hand in the outcome of open source.”
The open-source model is becoming so popular among CIOs, claims Strasnick, that they are banding together to do open-source development that no one else wants to touch. Strasnick says these groups are mostly formed around work that no one in the open-source community is volunteering for but that would help CIOs improve productivity. “There are things I need, but people in the community think it’s too boring to work on them—like Unix utilities or an open-source Cobol,” he says. Large corporations are contributing to these kinds of projects, says Strasnick, but they’re doing it anonymously for fear of alerting hackers to what’s in their software infrastructures.
“The open-source community is bigger than we can see,” says Strasnick. “I would fund an open-source community if I had to.”