Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

An Empirical Analysis of the Business Value of Open Source Infrastructure Technologies

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

An Empirical Analysis of the Business Value of Open Source Infrastructure Technologies

Article excerpt


Organizations are increasingly interested in exploring Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) based technologies as viable alternatives to proprietary or commercial solutions, but research on the business value of such technologies is lacking. In this paper, we contribute to this important, yet understudied, topic by examining the antecedents of the business value of open source infrastructure technologies. The paper puts forward a new model for explicating the organizational benefits of these technologies. Our findings suggest that in order to realize benefits from open source infrastructure technologies, organizations should have the human and technological capacities to absorb and utilize them as well as the ability to establish, maintain, and leverage ties with the technologies' communities of developers and users. The paper focuses on open source databases (specifically, MySQL) as an instance of open source infrastructure technology. A PLS analysis of 149 responses from organizations that have implemented MySQL revealed that absorptive capacity for the database, ties with the technology's user/developer community-of-practice, and an open source IT infrastructure that facilitates MySQL utilization explain about 20 per cent of the business value of the open source technology. These findings should help organizations realize the numerous potential benefits of open source technologies.

Keywords: Open source, IT infrastructure, business value of IT, databases, absorptive capacity, value co-creation, community-of-practice

1. Introduction

A recent major development in information technology is the emergence of Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS). FLOSS-based technologies make their source codes publicly and freely available, and provide the freedom to modify them. Previously considered a revolutionary movement in software development, FLOSS has become a driving force towards an open "source" movement in several different domains, including open courseware and open scientific publication (Boomen and Schäfer, 2005). FLOSS has attracted substantial interest from businesses, governments, and academics as an alternative to proprietary software as well as to commercial software development practices. Over the past decade, open source technologies in general, and open source infrastructure technologies in particular, have evolved to the point where they can practically compete on par with commercial packages (Bloor, 2005). Organizational adoption of open source technologies has occurred in waves, with the first wave being the implementation of open source operating systems and the second wave being the implementation of open source middleware solutions, browsers, and databases (Bruce et al., 2006). Commonly used open source technologies include the Apache web server, the MySQL database, the Linux operating system, the Firefox web browser, the OpenOffice office suite, and the Drupal content management system.

IT infrastructure has been identified as a top management concern due to its impact on firms' efforts to achieve competitive advantage (Dai et al., 2005). For example, IT infrastructure can play a strategic role in that it entails growth options and can provide organizations with the capability of coping with change (Benaroch, 2002). Specifically, researchers have observed that organizations that invest in IT infrastructure in anticipation of future business needs will be better positioned to respond to new environmental demands (e.g., Fink and Neumann, 2009). Thus, IT infrastructure is a critical organizational resource and its business value should be closely scrutinized.

By their nature, infrastructure technologies tend to be transparent to end-users and the adoption decision is frequently undertaken by IT and other business executives on behalf of the entire organization (Byrd and Turner, 2000; Greis and Kasarda, 1997). The abovementioned unique characteristics of FLOSS, coupled with an organizational level of analysis that is required for infrastructure technologies, such as databases, web and mail servers, and operating systems, call for a modified model of business value of IT (BVIT). …

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