Tuesday 3 November 2009

A tale of two systems

The last picture in my previous post was in fact a teaser - the basic premise is that with the right technical tools and business plan, an entire system can be assembled today for the cost of just the software of yesterday. So basically a sports car can be had today, for what it cost to just get the chassis a few years ago. How then, you might ask?

This point is not new, and has just been made on the WeoGeo blog for example. I just found enough public data online to illustrate the second keynote in my second-last post, and begin an ROI spreadsheet for proprietary vs. open-source webGIS:
  • Gerry James posted some figures for proprietary vs. open source application software costs
  • I found on CNET some indicative figures to get a hardware and operational software costs
  • Keith Weber posted capital vs. operating cost percentages for proprietary software
  • Paul Ramsey also gave a rough breakdown of similar cost percentages for open source
I collated this all together to draft a comparative estimate of total cost for proprietary vs. open-source software implementations. Caveat emptor: we all know much this depends on each actual site and project! There is, however, so little posted on ROI, that I thought it worthwhile to give it a go and post it here. I show the final result below - the backdrop image is the same as that ending my last post, to finish illustrating the point I started then. Please note however, that oilelefant(tm) offers proprietary not open source software, and thus lies somewhere above the yellow line, but these are the best publishable figures I found online:

To reiterate: given the right tools, entire systems can be put together for the cost of just the framework of others - $50,000 / €33,000 / £30,000 appear to be a watermark shown in the chart here in yellow, for available budgets at small operators and agencies. This is a crucial point in times of credit crunch for both parties, as their budgetary ceilings are fixed and not getting higher: That made it exceedingly difficult to justify GIS IT; even if the software could be sourced, the remaining cost often went over available funds - no reflection on either software or service, it's the simple truth in business today. In other words even if the capital costs proved affordable, operating costs most often did not.

This is a brave new world, where capital and operating costs are lowered, not client expectation or vendor delivery. In jest, no need to dust off old bookshelves and bring back old hardware to achieve this either:

(also on my Youtube channel)

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