February 8, 2011 – Open source software use continues to grow and is becoming a differentiator competitively, according to a new study from Gartner.

More than half of organizations surveyed have adopted open source software as part of their IT strategy. “In the past, to reduce cost was most important. That is starting to change,” says Laurie Wurster, research director at Gartner. “It’s become more mainstream because it’s part of strategy now.”

By customizing software unique to their company, they create a competitive advantage over others in their industry or field, as Wurster explains. When organizations innovate through using open source software components with homegrown development, benefits are gained. Some benefits of open source over proprietary software cited by Gartner survey respondents include flexibility, shorter development times and faster procurement processes.

Open source in organizations' portfolios is expected to increase to as much as 30 percent within the next 18 months, according to Gartner’s respondents. Internally developed software has also increased, suggesting that open source is used most often in conjunction with internally built software. While Wurster notes this sampling doesn’t represent the state of the market globally, it points to a trend toward using open source innovation for strategic industry advantage.

Only one-third of this study’s responding organizations have a formal OSS policy in place. “If you are going to be using open source, you need to have a formal policy in place,” says Wurster. Using a policy can protect the companies from getting in lawsuits over licensing.

Tracking an open source software license is not always smooth. Issues such as conflicting terms and conditions and the lack of an internal governance policy emerged as major challenges among Gartner’s respondents.

Gartner’s report also recommends using processes to ensure open source software is implemented according to agreements and using tools that block unauthorized use.

The research survey of 547 IT leaders in 11 countries from July 2010 through August 2010 represents trends of current and future open source markets. The report, “Survey Analysis: Overview of Preferences and Practices in the Adoption and Usage of Open-Source Software,” is available here

Check out more of Information Management’s open source coverage.

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