REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 3, 2008 — For businesses looking to save money, open source software might seem like a way to cut costs. But on closer inspection, firms are discovering the hidden costs of open source and how Microsoft Office represents the most economical option for their productivity and collaboration needs.
One business that recently made the switch from open source to Microsoft and hasn’t looked back is Speedy Hire, one of Britain’s largest companies specializing in rentals of tools and equipment.
PressPass spoke with James Fleming, infrastructure and support manager at Speedy Hire, to find out how migrating to a Microsoft productivity and business management platform will help the company save a projected one million pounds (US$1.48 million) over the next five years.
PressPass: Why did you decide to switch from open source to Microsoft?
Fleming: We originally installed Linux-based PCs running OpenOffice across our depot network to try to save money in the short term. But we quickly found that the exorbitant cost and limited availability of support left us worse off.
The restricted choice of support and the fact that we were confined to smaller consultants that didn’t necessarily understand our needs as an enterprise left us feeling exposed – especially as we relied on them to maintain mission-critical systems. The consultants we engaged typically had their own very particular ways of doing things and if they’d gone under we’d have been in serious trouble.
So the decision to migrate to Microsoft was a no-brainer, especially when we ran the numbers and did a return on investment (ROI) analysis. We found that by consolidating on Microsoft Office, Microsoft Dynamics AX and Microsoft SQL Server across both our depots and offices we stood to save one million pounds within five years. That was pretty compelling.
We also liked the fact that we could count on this incredibly broad, deep network of experienced, enterprise-savvy partners for our support needs. This flexibility and choice gave us invaluable peace of mind. You can’t put a price on that.
PressPass: Was it just price and support that convinced you to switch to Microsoft, or were there other considerations behind your decision?
Fleming: It was about much more than just saving money, though this was a key consideration. With Microsoft, we found we could accomplish considerably more for far less, with the assurance of an unparalleled cadre of partners, plus Microsoft itself, standing behind us.
With open source, it was lots of little niggly things that individually may not seem like a big deal, but quickly added up to major inconveniences – like the lack of automatic updates and security patches that forced us to rely on pricey third parties to perform upgrades, or the difficulty of exchanging OpenOffice documents with employees and customers running different systems. We also felt vulnerable to security breaches because of the less stringent authentication protocols compared with Microsoft Windows. Software is supposed to make your life easier, not harder.
By moving to Microsoft, we’ve been able to address these concerns in a single stroke, so the decision made sense from multiple standpoints.
Thanks to regular updates, we’re always running the very latest, most secure versions of software. And sourcing internal IT staff is infinitely easier now that we can draw upon the far larger pool of candidates with Microsoft skills rather than having to scour for the niche specialists needed to administer our previous open-source systems.
We also wanted to give our employees the latest tools and applications to fuel their work rate and make them feel more empowered instead of having to deal with rudimentary, bare-bones functionality that impeded their productivity. With the old open source software we ran before switching to Microsoft, employees would tell us they felt like they were stepping back in time when they came to work.
PressPass: Now you’ve made the move to Microsoft, how has it measured up to your expectations?
Fleming: After the initial investment, we’re already beginning to see cost savings. We’re also realizing productivity gains from the enhanced functionality and improved performance of our systems. Additionally, consolidating on Microsoft has relieved our integration headaches and security concerns.
We can also be more responsive to our customers because we’re literally on the same page as them, using the same systems that they use. Previously we had to go through the rigmarole of converting customer-facing documents from OpenOffice to Microsoft Office Word or Excel.
Finally, our Microsoft systems give us a robust platform for growth that allows us to easily add the functionality we want for the future. In this vein, we’re planning to deploy Microsoft Office SharePoint to give us richer collaboration and project management capabilities.
PressPass: How did people react to your finding that Microsoft actually worked out to be cheaper than open source in the long run?
Fleming: It might initially seem counter-intuitive to people who are not closely familiar with enterprise IT. But among IT professionals it really comes as no surprise when you consider TCO (total cost of ownership). Most recognize that open-source environments end up costing you more once you factor in support and maintenance. Not to mention the indirect price you pay in reduced functionality, inconvenience, and impaired productivity.
PressPass: What has been the reception among end users to the switch to Microsoft?
Fleming: Our people have stood behind our decision every step of the way.
In fact, there was a grassroots movement toward migrating to Microsoft underway before we formally made the decision. In order to permit document exchange between our depot and office networks, we had to install OpenOffice as well as Microsoft Office on our office PCs, and end users were already voting with their feet by spurning it to exclusively use Office.
Now that we’ve made the move, our employees like the fact that they can do so much more with Microsoft Office and our other Microsoft applications, compared with the Linux-based systems. Plus, they’re already fluent in the Office interface from using it at home and have a good grounding in its basic and intermediate functionality, so there’s no hump to get over in terms of training.
We also don’t miss the complaints about sluggish performance, applications seizing up, and disappearing icons that we used to get with open source, and which our IT staff had to troubleshoot. With Microsoft, we’ve been able to reduce our IT management overheads and free up IT resources for more strategic work.
PressPass: What would you say to other businesses evaluating productivity software options and looking to minimize their costs in today’s economic climate?
Fleming: My advice would be, don’t believe the hype about open source. It’s seductive, but misleading, and could lead a company into a mistake they can ill-afford to make in today’s economy.
You save money up front, but over the long haul you’ll pay more. The message is, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Sure, you can get a CD off a magazine cover, stick it in a machine, and there’s your operating system. But if you want to actually do anything with it and make it bulletproof enough to withstand the rigors of corporate use, it’s going to cost a lot of money and require considerable work.