Executing an open source strategy

 

“Fledgling Research Inc.” builds cloud-based applications based on open source technologies. Fledgling Research has some default building blocks in a code library, but most of the applications are custom-built and therefore the technical content also needs to be customized. And once the application and documentation are delivered, the customers often extend and build further customizations without the help of Fledgling Research. On average, each application is licensed for $10,000.

The problem

Until now, Fledgling Research’s technical content has been in the form of sparse code comments. But as the company matures, the customers are getting larger and more demanding. These bigger customers are unamused by the lack of formal technical content.

 

The solution

Fledgling Research needs a content strategy that is compatible with the company’s emphasis on open source tools. Fledgling Research decides that all content should be encoded in XML using one of the popular standards for technical communication (DocBook or DITA). All processing is done with open-sourcing tools, such as Ant, Java, and XSLT. Fledgling Research considers an open source content management system, but eventually decides to keep the technical content close to the software code instead. Technical content is stored parallel to the software code in an (open source) source control system.

The total software licensing cost? Zero.

Fledgling Research does, however, invest a significant amount of time and energy into building stylesheets that output the information in an attractive, professional format. The company then contributes these stylesheets back to the open source community so that others can benefit from them.

Open-source content strategy

The business case

Fledgling Research has very few costs, and all work is done with in-house resources.

Table 1. Estimated costs
Item Implementation cost (one-time)
Design attractive output $5,000
Implement design $15,000
TOTAL $20,000
The cost savings and revenue sides of the business case are also sparse. One option is to assume that the increased customer satisfaction from better content will lead to at least one additional customer per year and that, likewise, the open source contribution will yield one additional customer per year. Another way to look at the business case is to assume that better technical content will open up projects with larger customers, which would increase the average value of a customer.

Table 2. Cost savings and revenue generated
Item Cost savings and revenue generated (per year)
Increased customer satisfaction due to more professional technical content (one additional customer per year) $10,000
Goodwill and increased visibility in open source community because of stylesheet contributions (one additional customer per year) $10,000
TOTAL $20,000

 

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