Does the open source professional services business model suck?

Today I participated and lectured at an open source event. It was great to meet enthusiastic people that believe in something bigger then themselves. These events are always a mixture of young people full of vigor and need for rebellion as well as more balanced older people that have believed in open source for a long time.

I have been intrigued with open source and open source business models for a long time now, so I might belong to the second group.

Anyway, in the keynote, the speaker talked about open source business models, saying that the professional services business model is better then proprietary code business model because it provides real value to the end consumer and because you get a return of your investment in this business model.

Well, I have my reservations:money

1) I have seen companies misuse the professional services business model (open source or not) – selling poor service and wasting the clients time and spending his money with "experts" that know very little.

2) There is no motivation for a company, basing its business on open source development and professional services, to create simple and easy to use application. This is because simple and easy to use applications do not generate the need for professional services. Professional services thrive on complexity and difficulty.

opensource-110x953) Professional services business model (open source or not) can create a tension between the service provider that wants to prolong the duration and manpower sent on a project and the client how wants exactly the opposite

4) I am not sure the open source professional services business model is a big enough business to drive the entire market to open source products or to sustain open source companies.

I have once personally been told in an open source project – “Do not add this auto-configuration feature, it will kill our professional services” of course after a long “discussion” we added the feature, but the potential to provide a sucky product just to satisfy this open source business models was still there.

I am still thinking about and waiting for the business models that can really sustain and grow a  large scale and successful open source company.

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Amir Shevat

Amir Shevat is the global Startup Outreach lead in Google Developer Relations ( Previously, Amir Led Google Campus Tel Aviv and was the co founder of several startups.

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2 Responses

  1. Amir Shevat says:

    I know very little in business management, but I’ll give it a go:
    If your product sux because you need the client to require support, the client will find a better product, and you will be out of business. So you can’t really make a product that is harder to use than it should be.
    The same goes for providing poor quality service – service is part of the product. If the service sux, your product sux.
    I do agree that for small and easy to use products, the services model won’t work. If you want to make revenue from a desktop utility, you should find some other business model – either charge for license or use ads. In both case, it should probably be closed source.
    finally, I don’t think anyone thinks that open source will take over the world. There will always be closed source and open source living side by side, and every company will decide what model fits its needs. In the mean time, there are a lot of companies making a lot of money from services to open source products, so yes, open source can sustain companies.

    too bad i can’t link back to my blog from here.


  2. anonymous says:

    There is still a tension between the open source service provider and the client. I agree that’s why you have healthy competition, and that healthy competition balances this effect.
    My point is that an open source product company, basing its strategy on the professional services business model, will avoid making its product more simple and automatic because that will kill its business model. On the other hand, if you are selling licenses of the product, one of your main goals is to make the product as simple and easy as possible in order to minimize customer support, training, and other costs that you as a product company need to maintain and pay for.

    BTW, I changed the input format of the comments so you can add the link to your blog. If you still have problems mail me at: amir(at)spacebug(dot)com

    Amir Shevat

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