Open Source 101: How to RFP an Open Source Project

Last week we highlighted some lessons learned on starting open source projects in your organization. In support of providing a springboard for your dive into open source, we need to address another area where the industry often stumbles – the RFP process. Yes, you’re transforming your network. Yes, you’re transforming your operations. Yes, you’re transforming your service models. Why, then, shouldn’t your proposal process transform to better support your new needs?

Often, we find organizations that genuinely want to use more open source, but that treats the acquisition process the same as they would when buying a new hardware platform, and it just doesn’t work.

Remember, you’re buying software components—the ingredients for the dish you’re going to make, not a fully-cooked meal. So, if you’re asking vendors about speeds and feeds, as you would when buying a new data center switch, you’re not going to get useful information. Ultimately, you want to something that delivers the business logic you need to achieve your business goals, and that’s it. How exactly the software functions under the hood is often irrelevant. Too many times, organizations get buried in the minutia of whether the software supports X and Y RFP. At the end of the day, what matters is, can it deliver the right data, in the right format, in the right timeframe? Does it glue together with the other critical parts of your business software environment?

If you’re going to succeed with open source, come to the table with the high-level objectives you want to accomplish, instead of a list of low-level technical specifications. And remember: when you use open source, you’re in complete control. If a specific RFP isn’t implemented right now, there’s nothing stopping you from implementing it tomorrow. You’re not asking vendors to deliver a product against a specification anymore; you’re just asking for a set of capabilities and then implementing them to your own specification yourself. You’re not just a solution-buyer anymore, you’re the solution owner, and your RFP process should reflect that.