You may be considering automating some of your business or industrial production processes. Automation of business processes can bestow substantial advantages to your enterprise, and more companies are moving in that direction every day. Once the decision is made to employ automated processes in your business or industry, you have some choices to make when designing and implementing your system.
An automation system is created from a combination of hardware and software components. The type of industrial or business process that you plan to automate will in large part dictate the hardware requirements for your installation. You may need to deploy sensors made by a certain manufacturer to obtain the results you desire. There may only be one company that offers the hardware solution that you need to create the automated system you envision.
The software side of an automated system allows you more choice as to the tools and applications that you use. Many hardware vendors supply their own proprietary software that they recommend for use with their equipment. This software is specifically tailored to the vendor’s hardware and may facilitate the initial setup of your automated processes.
Another option when deciding on automation software is to choose a package that relies on open source rather than vendor-specific code. While some advantages are using the proprietary code in some instances, open source automation software also has some strong points in its favor.
Here are five reasons that open source software may be beneficial in the creation of your business process automation system.
1. The Ability to Customize
Proprietary software usually comes with a suite of features that the vendor considers useful to the user. Certain assumptions must be made during the software’s development to allow for it to serve the purposes of the vendor’s customers. These assumptions may not entirely coincide with the functionality that you need in the software tools.
According to the linuxfoundation.org, open source software offers companies more flexibility than any other third-party alternative. Short of developing all your tools from scratch, open source will put you on the best path toward changing and customizing your automation software to exactly perform as needed.
2. Avoid Being Locked-in With a Vendor
Here is a scenario that is all too familiar when dealing with proprietary software systems. Your organization decides that it wants to expand the scope of your company’s automation. The plan is to expand the capabilities of the current software package to include the ability to interface with newer hardware purchased from a different vendor. You also want the reporting structure to be modified, to conform and to audit requirements.
Making changes like this to proprietary software may be impossible for your in-house team. You might be forced to go to the vendor with your new requirements and hope that they can accommodate you. This is likely to be an expensive proposition if the company is willing to assist you.
Rather than making it easy to interact with hardware or software from other vendors, they may try to simply sell you additional hardware. While this may get the job done, it is not the direction you wanted to go, and you could wind up in a situation where you are now completely dependent on a single vendor. This poses risks as vendors can go out of business or decide to support a product no longer that may be critical to your operation.
Open source software tools are less expensive than proprietary software, but the cost-effectiveness of your open source package extends far beyond the initial purchase. As mentioned above, relying on a specific vendor for modifications that your system needs can be problematic. Even if they work with you to make the necessary changes, you will be paying a premium for their assistance.
Open source code lets you employ your in-house staff to maintain and modify the code. Usually, this will be less expensive than having the vendor do the work for you.
4. Attracting Technical Talent
The best technical talent in the software development field stays apprised of the overall trends in computing technology. There is currently a strong emphasis on the use of open source software platforms and tools in many different computing disciplines, and automation is no exception.
Talented developers and technicians can be stymied by having to work with proprietary systems that limit their ability to be creative and grow your system to serve your business constantly better. This limitation can drive away talented, potential employees who would rather work on an open source project as opposed to maintaining and working around the restrictions of proprietary software.
5. Cutting-Edge Innovation
Open source software has the benefit of a large user community that is continually pushing the technological envelope and making improvements to the product. This conglomeration of technical expertise dwarfs the resources that any single vendor or company can provide.
By using open source software, your company can take advantage of technical innovations made throughout the user community according to digitalistmag.com. As developments are made they reverberate throughout the user community and are incorporated into the open software packages.
You can leverage advances and not have to spend time seeking solutions to problems that have already been solved. Innovation flows in the world of open source software, where your vendor may feel their proprietary code is good enough and does not need to be enhanced.
As we have seen, there are a few of potential benefits that can increase using open source software for your automation system. There is a place for vendor supplied, proprietary code, and you may need to make use of it to fully enact your vision of automating a business process. But it also has its limitations.
You need to understand the goals of your automation system before determining, if open source software is right for your organization. Its benefits may make the difference in your ability to create a flexible and extensible system that will help your business operate more efficiently.
Where are you utilizing open source automation now? Also, where might you want to utilize it in the coming year? Leave us a comments with your thoughts in the section below.