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Budgeting for Open-Source projects

It’s a sad fact of business that everything costs money, and there is no such thing as a free lunch. This applies to when you implement Enterprise Open Source technologies as well: someone somewhere is maintaining that code, and in terms of making it useful to you it invariably requires expertise.

But how do you budget for something that, on license cost at least, is freely available?

Our example project will be one we’ve directly worked on: noslegal. This global legal-taxonomy allows for deeper collaboration between lawyers through shared classification of matters and billing. We believe it will fundamentally transform legal work and our customers agree, hence their joint involvement.

If you were to implement the taxonomy you would need to adjust classifications in your: Document Management System, Practice Management System, Accounts and Billing System, and undertake a few Training exercises to ensure staff know how to use the new methodology. It is likely eDiscovery teams would also have to plan adoption in advance.

You can do a Big Bang deployment, or be Incremental – we prefer to be incremental for complex projects like noslegal.

In terms of managing your budget there are three things to consider:

  • Have you calculated the expected ROI (return on investment) against current legacy system costs?
  • Have you involved the teams who will be using this new system/software?
  • Are there resources available to oversee and guide implementation?


Even if it comes at no upfront cost on licenses, a top-down deployment of a solution will hamper staff productivity and your profitability. Without due consideration for graded ROIs for each cost centre you won’t know where to invest the most time which adds risk to your deployment (or a particular cost centre may not need to be involved in the at all).

Instead, we would suggest as follows:

  • Start with the ROI and work backwards to see what you can shave off a solution to increase it. You won’t need everything.
  • Have a Product Owner who’s responsible for the solution, and for bringing internal stakeholders around the table.
  • Start early on training: be it a newsletter, link to a video, in-person training through ‘Champions’ within the teams… anything to warm your users up to the new system rather than leave them in the cold.


Our experience delivering complex projects for organisations large and small is this: people are naturally curious about things which improve their day-to-day lives; framing implementations as being an investment for people brings them around the table. If it’s about saving the business money, explain what will happen from that which benefits them.

In all of the above however, we have left out one thing: expertise. It is quite difficult to qualify expertise without first using it (a good developer is a good developer, a good lawyer is a good lawyer – you have one or you don’t).

We prefer to go through this process when getting suppliers to offer proposals:

  1. Do an internal consultation and have an expert draft a technical specification for what we’re looking for.
  2. Ask a supplier if they have done this or something similar to it before.
  3. Qualify if a supplier has customer references or case studies on offer.
  4. Identify which proposals include carbon emissions projections.
  5. Confirm if there a visual guide to demonstrate timelines and key deliverables.
  6. Will they be held accountable with the proposal, or if they go overbudget do they simply charge you more?


You can complete the above exercise even if you are the only person in your organisation, and even if you aren’t seeking external expertise to implement the technology of choice.

Our Roadmap document has been designed specifically to accommodate the above methodology – when it comes to Enterprise Open Source the toolbox is vast and you have free reign to choose a solution: identify and implement it.

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