Advocates of open source software often cite cost reduction as one of the most significant benefits to ditching proprietary solutions, such as Microsoft's Windows operating systems and Office productivity suite. As a result, there have been countless examples in recent years of organizations large and small switching to open source alternatives in the pursuit of greater flexibility and big cost savings.
But open source doesn't always work out cheaper, as an example highlighted today by ZDNet shows. In 2011, the local government in the Italian municipality of Pesaro decided to wind down its reliance on Office in favor of OpenOffice, training hundreds of staff to use the replacement suite.
But in 2014, Pesaro's municipal authorities decided that enough was enough, after the cost of its OpenOffice deployment ended up being far higher than expected. Stefano Bruscoli, the city's IT chief, said that there had been 'significant and unexpected deployment costs' in trying to make the OpenOffice solution work:
We encountered several hurdles and dysfunctions around the use of specific features. What's more, due to the impossibility of replacing Access and partly Excel (various macros used on tens of files), we decided we had to keep a hybrid solution, using the two systems at the same time. This mix has been devastating.
In a report by the Netics Observatory, commissioned by Pesaro, Bruscoli also said that hundreds of staff were spending up to 15 minutes a day managing file compatibility issues between OpenOffice and Microsoft Office, resulting in thousands of hours of work being wasted each year.
As a result of these findings, Pesaro's authorities began the process of ditching the open source software, and switching back to Office, last year. According to the report, that will result in savings of up to 80% on all software spending - which includes not just deployment, but also support, training, and the cost of the software itself.
With OpenOffice, the annual cost per user, over a five-year period, was just over €530; but with Office 365, that's been reduced to €197.49 per year. The report identified the possibility of further savings too - by using Yammer and Skype for Business, expenditure on calls and business trips could be reduced, bringing the total cost per user down to just €111.98 a year - almost 80% lower than the OpenOffice approach.
Of course, one example alone doesn't prove that open source solutions aren't worth considering - indeed, there have been many successful deployments of open source software around the world. But what it does show is that switching to open source isn't a sure guarantee of massive savings - and for some organizations, the more predictable pricing of a proprietary solution like Office 365 may work out better in the long run.