Should you outsource your next open source project? | Opensource.com

Should you outsource your next open source project?

Consider the pros and cons before you turn your open source project over to a third party.

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There are many benefits of using open source solutions for your projects. They're flexible, agile, cost-effective, and highly customizable. Most offer reliable information security thanks to the responsiveness of the open source community. In addition, you can start small and then scale up to shorten the development cycle and achieve results quickly.

However, implementing open source software may require specific expertise you don't have in-house. Should you outsource your next open source project, or assemble an in-house team?

Pros of outsourcing

To find an approach that's right for your business, consider the pros of outsourcing the project.

Lower cost

Hiring a full-time team can be costly due to overhead expenses. Besides salaries and benefits, you also have to pay for rent, utilities, employment taxes, and other administrative costs associated when hiring full-time on-premises employees.

On the other hand, outsourcing software development allows you to minimize overhead costs associated with having an in-house team. You can also eliminate the complex hiring and onboarding process since the outsourcing company will be responsible for these tasks.

Access to specialized skills

Developing open source software often requires specialized skills and knowledge. Outsourcing allows you to spend your budget on the right talents for each project to achieve the best outcomes without the long-term commitment associated with hiring full-time employees, which is a balancing act especially challenging for all small business owners.

An outsourcing company can assemble a team with the most relevant experience, so they can hit the ground running right away. This will provide you with workers that are adequately trained in the technology that's specific to your project.

Increased flexibility

Outsourcing enables you to adjust the size of your team based on the workload of each project. Outsourcing companies often can speed up production and meet an aggressive timeline because they have well-organized teams at the ready to take on large or rush projects.

These companies also have the resources and experience to accommodate a change in scope (adding functionality, for example). They have extensive experience in working with open source projects, so they know how to make adjustments in the most efficient way possible.

Quality and reliability

A reputable outsourcing company takes responsibility for the quality and performance of the products they develop. This is particularly important when you're working with open source software where there's no commercial vendor to provide post-implementation support.

Also, these companies have standard processes and will provide a contract that clearly states deadlines, payment terms, intellectual property rights, and other aspects of the partnership to ensure that both parties are fully protected.

Streamlined maintenance

Many outsourcing companies offer ongoing maintenance services to their clients. You can leverage their expertise and knowledge to keep the open source software updated so you can minimize compatibility or security issues.

Outsourcing routine maintenance tasks also free up your in-house IT team to focus on your organization's core competencies, high-value activities, and strategic initiatives that will create more long-term impacts for the business.

Cons of outsourcing

Before jumping in headfirst, consider how outsourcing can go wrong.

Communication challenges

Geographic and language barriers are common issues faced by companies that outsource software development projects. These hurdles often impact communication, and you may not get timely responses due to time-zone differences.

Collaboration with your in-house IT department or other teams (marketing, for example) can be difficult because of the company divide. Collaboration tools help, but cultural differences could lead to miscommunication that causes errors and delays.

A best practice is to set regular meetings between your internal and outsourced teams at a time that works for everyone. If your headquarters is in the US Eastern time zone, and you have outsourced teams spread between the US Pacific and European time zones, 10am Eastern isn't too early or too late for all team members. It's also critical to use project management tools to keep all teams aligned and on schedule.

Lack of alignment

It's more difficult for an external team to understand your company's culture and business philosophy. This can impact how they collaborate with your internal team and their ability to design a solution tailored to your specific business goals.

The outsourcing team may have trouble navigating the "people" aspect of the project, making it more challenging to facilitate adoption and integrate the new platform to your existing workflows so you can optimize results.

A great way to bring disparate teams together is to kick off the engagement with an all-hands introductory meeting. Discuss the company's philosophy and get to know all team members face-to-face on a videoconference. A best practice is to set up regular meetings to reiterate how the project fits into the company's overall mission and acknowledge any remote team members whose work stands out.

Security risks

During the development process, you need to share ideas, innovations, and data with third-party vendors. Some intellectual property is highly critical to your business, and the use of such information is hard to control, even if the remote team signs a nondisclosure agreement.

In addition, you may run into IT security issues if your outsourcing company isn't careful when connecting to your network or storing your data. This can open opportunities for hackers to infiltrate your outsourced team's system or intercept your business-critical data when it's transferred.

This is where it's critical to implement security protocols that your outsourced team needs to follow. At ChamberofCommerce.com, we use a managed file transfer solution to automate all the ongoing data transfers that are required between our data partners, internal development team and any outsourced vendors we may use to augment projects. Without automating this through a secure protocol, both our and our partners’ data could be susceptible to hackers during transmission.

Finding the right open source software development company

There are many advantages to using an outsourcing company for your open source project. You can take advantage of all the benefits and mitigate the downsides by finding a reputable partner that meets your needs. Here’s a list of software development outsourcing companies we have considered in the past. Before making a choice, though, review these seven tips you can use to evaluate each:

  • Effective communications: The company should have a communication protocol in place to optimize efficiency and minimize errors. It should set expectations for communication channels and turnaround time, as well as name a dedicated point person to organize all communications with your internal team.
  • Close collaboration: Team members should have good collaboration skills, so they can work with your internal team seamlessly and effectively. If frequent real-time collaboration is required, and there's a significant time zone difference, you should find out how the vendor plans to organize these sessions.
  • The right outsourcing model: There are several outsourcing models, including onshoring, offshoring, nearshoring, and hybrid models. Each has its pros and cons, so you need to find a solution that balances cost, service quality, and proximity (which can mitigate cultural, language, and time-zone barriers).
  • A proven process: You will rely on your outsourcing company's knowledge and experience to help you optimize ROI. One of the keys to success is having a streamlined process that can deliver a high-quality final product on time and on budget, so make sure your partner can navigate the specific open source technology you're using.
  • Understanding your business requirements: Open source software is highly customizable so that you can configure the platform to meet your needs. Hire a partner that understands your business model, objectives, and company culture, so it can develop a solution that supports your business processes and long-term goals.
  • Proper security measures: The outsourcing company should have the right security measures in place to protect your intellectual properties and business-critical information. All the team members should be carefully vetted and have their access monitored to ensure the safety of your data.
  • Quality assurance and warranty: A reputable outsourcing company should include a comprehensive testing and quality assurance (QA) process in its project plan and stand by the quality of its products by offering a warranty period. These are particularly important for an open source solution, so make sure they're included in your agreement.

For most organizations, outsourcing is a cost-effective solution for developing open source software, so you should certainly consider this option. When you understand the pros and cons of this approach, you can better navigate the process and find a partner that meets your needs.

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Marketing an open source project is mainly about education, and traditional marketing techniques do not apply.

About the author

Matt Shealy - ChamberofCommerce.com President
Matt Shealy - Matt Shealy is the President of ChamberofCommerce.com. Chamber specializes in helping small businesses grow their business on the web while facilitating the connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide. Matt is a seasoned marketer and technologist working with technology powerhouses like SAP and Campaign Monitor. As ChamberofCommerce.com’s President, Matt’s focus is to...