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12 challenges businesses face when using open-source software

Scott Gerber
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Scott Gerber

Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members rep… (show all) Scott Gerber is the founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.

YEC

The use of open-source software has grown during the last decade. Open-source software itself has improved dramatically, offering comparable functions as professionally authored titles, as well as low up-front costs and creative features.

But while open-source systems have benefits, there are a number of sticking points to watch. To help your teams and leaders identify where trouble can develop — so you can best prepare, or go with a different system — I asked a panel of experts from YEC the following question:

What is a major challenge for using or starting to use open-source software in your business? How can savvy teams solve the issue?

Their best answers are below:

1. Security

Open-source platforms can increase the risk of security breaches. You should consult with an IT security expert before committing to an open-source platform. A security professional should be able to help install safeguards to protect your data and prevent a cyber attack on your business. – Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

2. Confusing Complexity

It can become so complex that it goes against the functionality you are trying to create. It helps to have a developer team that can work through all of the open-source work and systematically works on integrating what others are trying to do. Collaborating on these features and integrations also helps both our business and those we are trying to assist. – John Rampton, Calendar

3. Updates

Open-source software is accessible and easy to implement, but it also poses some challenges. For instance, this type of software does not have a vendor releasing updates. Instead, developers must seek them out. To ensure they do, leaders must implement governance programs that require IT teams to manage patch through and updates to ensure they remain secure and functional. – Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker

4. Community and Licensing

Making sure the software is maintained and has a large community to carry on its support, is crucial. Savvy teams could research the software better to look at the community history and involvement and contributors to the project. Another thing to be aware of is open source doesn’t always mean that it’s free. Also, making sure the licensing agrees with your business model and use case is extremely important. – Ashish Datta, Setfive Consulting

5. Training

Open source typically doesn’t have as great a set of training manuals and resources as the paid-and-packaged stuff. It’s important to make sure that you are able to implement the right training strategy for your team when you are going this route. Not recommended for big teams, that’s for sure. – Nicole Munoz, Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc.

6. Lack of Customer Support

One challenge we’ve found with using some open-source software is in the lack of customer support. Oftentimes, you’ll need to reference an online forum when it’s easier to get someone on the phone to help. One way that we’ve overcome the lack of human customer support is by seeking answers in forums and also contributing to those forums. If you’ve figured something out, share how and help someone. – Joel Mathew, Fortress Consulting

7. Mystery Sources

When using open-source software that you didn’t create, you run into a problem with figuring out which sources are making changes to the code you’re using. This poses a serious problem, especially for business owners, because with the use of some open-source software you could unknowingly expose your hard work to hackers and exploits. – Blair Williams, MemberPress

8. Compatibility

In addition to issues with certain closed-source programs not working well with open-source ones, compatibility can also be an issue when your company is staffed with professionals who aren’t familiar with the software in question that prefers a closed-source alternative. In both of these cases, there are no easy solutions: You just have to commit to the necessary changes to make it work. – Bryce Welker, Beat The CPA

9. Learning Curve

For business owners who aren’t especially tech-savvy, open-source software such as WordPress can sometimes come with a steep learning curve. So, before you decide to use open-source software, test it out first. Read some online tutorials to see if you can get a handle on it. Alternatively, you can also check to see if someone on your team is skilled with the software and have them teach you. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

10. Not Prioritizing a Policy

The first thing you need to do is outline a policy for your business or organization on your open-source usage. Without it, developers on your team will use any components that they choose, which could cause multiple issues down the line. Establishing a clear, written policy is the best way to ensure you don’t run into incompatibilities or issues later on. – Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

11. Seeing the Big Picture

Open-source software is great for business and there is a ton of valuable software across all sectors. However, due to the complex nature of open-source software, it can be hard to step back and look at the big picture when you’re creating your website or using the software. You may have to practice with the software and view your results to grasp the big picture. – David Henzel, LTVPlus

12. Not Realizing the Cost

One of the appeals of open-source software is cost. However, many companies fail to calculate the time commitment necessary to run and maintain the open-source code. It often takes time to manage open-source software problems. To avoid this, teams should compare the net cost of supporting operating systems with commercial alternatives to ensure that they are getting the biggest bang for their buck — and time. – Shu Saito, Fact Retriever

Published July 26, 2019 — 09:00 UTC