Marketing OpenNMS to Government:-
Traditionally Open Source projects don't have much of a marketing budget and tend to rely on world of mouth or technical conferences to promote the value of the product. This has served OpenNMS well in the past but we are coming to think that the reason many technically inferior closed source products do so well is because of their ability to market to decision makers in the ICT sector. With this in mind we have been putting a lot more effort into getting the message out about OpenNMS this year through workshops, attendance at shows and direct marketing. Of course the problem is, as John Wanamaker is quoted as saying "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."
One of the most difficult areas to crack is Government which is naturally risk averse and in the present climate finds it difficult to budget for new innovations. However, we decided this year to reach out directly through SOCTIM the trade association which represents the ICT managers in the UK Government . They run an annual trade show and this year we teamed up with Shadowcat Ltd to rent a stand.
What is SOCTIM ?
SOCTIM is the professional body for people involved in the leadership and management of IT and digitally enabled services delivered for public benefit. Each year SOCTIM organises a conference for IT professionals in the UK public sector. Drawing on contributions from leading politicians, industry experts and local practitioners, Socitm 2014 provided an exciting opportunity for ICT professionals from across the public sector to take on the challenge of designing and articulating the value of a deeper digital presence.
How useful was the Show?
We wanted to give as wide a view as possible of the potential for OpenNMS because for people who have never used a network management solution, we have to spark the imagination and show them what is possible. We demonstrated the key new features of OpenNMS V 1.14 but we also demonstrated how OpenNMS can be used to build solutions such as the Open Alert App we prototyped at Jersey Digital Hub .
In addition we showed how services can be built using OpenNMS. Shadowcat have built a subscription management offering on top of OpenNMS called ShadowNMS which uses OpenNMS as the core engine but provides a much simpler user experience for subscribers who want to manage a small number of servers or sites using a cloud solution. (We will review this separately in another blog) .
We did attract a lot of interest but it was obvious that the usual Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) with respect to Open Source still appeared to pervade the community. We got the usual scepticism about 'free software' which usually began to a bait once we told the OpenNMS story. There is a general unwillingness to engage with open source in government because of the perceived risk and because many don't understand the Open Source business model. At one session, a local council was promoting a suit of finance software they had written with a view to selling it as a COTS solution to other local authorities. I asked the obvious question, 'why didn't you open source the solution for other authorities'? but the response indicated that they felt this would be poor use of taxpayers money. It appears to me that if the objective was to reduce the cost to the local councils for maintaining a suit of software, the open source solution would be much better use of tax payers money than trying to commercialise the IPR in a limited market. Cest la Vie...
Cost effective Innovation also featured highly in the conference agenda. However not much thought was given to how agile development is actually done and the value of open source development techniques in the process of innovation.I think thet the Open Source community has a lot to contribute here if we can find champions to actively promote the cause in Government. So even before we get to explaining the value of OpenNMS there is a lot of work to do to help Government wake up to understand how to organise themselves so as to exploit open source solutions effectively. We hope to be using the SOCTIM channel going forwards to encourage this debate.
Shadowcat Systems is an open source software developer and software consultancy provider based in the UK but accustomed to operating worldwide via electronic communications and distributed development environments. They offer proven expertise in development of networked systems and reliably automating manual processes from business workflow to systems and network management.
Shadowcat have the experience to deliver fully integrated open source solutions which are managed by OpenNMS.
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About OpenNMS UK
They sell consulting, support and custom development services for users of the OpenNMS platform in the UK and Ireland.
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Dr. Craig Gallen
entimOSS Ltd (OpenNMS UK)
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