Has Open Source killed the RFP?

When I was in sales, I participated in numerous Request for Proposal (RFP) efforts. To put it in perspective, I spent most of my sales career selling hardware to the government vertical (albeit as a software specialist). Governments are big on RFPs (impartiality). I also helped the commercial sales teams with RFPs upon occasion, so my peers suffered the same fate.

Product managers are not immune from RFPs. We tend to be back line support for those questions that need a bit more insight into the product (ex: roadmaps). Since being in product management I've noticed I'm involved in fewer RFPs. I can say with authority it's not because of a lack of commercial interest. GlassFish is doing quite well in that regard.

Customers are leveraging open source to reduce cost and eliminate vendor lock-in (among other things). Before the move, customers are still comparing, in the middleware space for example, GlassFish, JBoss, Geronimo, and Tomcat. I occasionally get comparison spreadsheets from potential customers. However, the process of the formal RFP seems to be pushed aside. Here are some of my thoughts as to why:

  • Transparency. Open source is by definition "open". A vast majority of the information that is typically requested is publicly available.
  • Google. The information that is public available is easily found.
  • Community. The information that is not available can be quickly addressed by posting an email.
  • Resources. Organizations do not like the RFP process. It's time consuming and people-consuming. Thank goodness because vendors do not like RFPs either - it is equally time consuming :-)
  • Viral growth. Open source technologies often get deployed first at the departmental level. They tell two departments, who then tell two departments, and so on, and so on. Before you know it, the open source technology is already the company standard.
  • Value Proposition. The value proposition of using open source in general, or a specific technology in particular, is often compelling enough to "sell itself". For example, GlassFish offers enterprise features, is 1/10th the cost of its closed-source peers, and outperforms them as well.

The blog title truly is a question, not a statement. I've thrown out some supporting thoughts, but I don't want to claim an authoritative statement. Regardless, I know it is not an absolute truth. So the question remains, has open source generally killed the RFP?

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John Clingan

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