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September 1, 2017

Business Is Run on Fun: How Customer Support Defines Software

Business is run on fun

By: Gavin Hagemeier, Aptronics Enterprise Engineer

Customer support is perhaps the most important factor for any organisation that relies on third-party software to run its day-to-day operations. And while open source software has many virtues, its unrivalled level of support is where it really shines – supported by a community of thousands of amateurs, professionals and hobbyists.

It’s why low-level, server-side software is so often Linux-based. I can’t think of a single case where a data centre isn’t fundamental to maintaining business continuity, and that demands the rock-solid reliability Linux is known for.

Even in the case of less critical issues, reliable, timely incident response is crucial for business continuity. That’s not to say that enterprise-level software serves no purpose. Enterprise has the resources and talent to innovate and is making huge strides, particularly in the field of XaaS.

Unfortunately, enterprises are also beholden to their stakeholders and have to account for huge operational overheads. The easiest way to do that is to release a new OS – an entirely new software environment – every few years, to reinvigorate markets and resell to their already large customer bases. The effect, however, is dropped support for older software, which is now prohibitively costly to continue to develop for.

Open source organisations, on the other hand, extract useful code from the community and ensure it’s enterprise ready. Their product isn’t the software itself but the strategic support they can provide. Critically, by using code the open source community is intimately familiar with, they can get as many eyes on problems as is necessary. And because Linux is iterated upon rather than replaced wholesale, support for older versions is rarely dropped; there’s always someone in the community who’s keen to work on it – that’s the spark I’m referring to.

Open source software is a project of passion; it’s fun to develop for. That’s why there’s a thriving community. It’s not hard to imagine that ‘having fun’ is directly responsible for Linux’s significant market share and why open source companies are staffed by some of the best minds in the industry. Who doesn’t want to do what they enjoy as their day job? That’s what both concerns and excites me.

For the longest time, some of the world’s largest open source companies did what they did for the love of the community. They derived a sizeable income from their support services, granted, but the bottom line was never the first priority. That seems to be changing, and I’d never thought I’d say this, but some businesses should not be driven by growth.

On the plus side, enterprise has learnt from the open source community, particularly in the era of cloud computing, and is moving away from 5-year product cycles and lacklustre support. Instead, plug-and-play technology, convenience, visibility, simplicity, and customer support are at the forefront of their businesses, and it’s making a world of difference.

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