Using Open Source As A Weird Form Of Outsourcing

Software-maker Niku is opening most of the code in its project-scheduling app. The company believes it's a mature product and will concentrate on enhancing another app.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

July 8, 2004

4 Min Read

Niku Corp. has placed the future of its decade-old Workbench project-scheduling software in the hands of the open-source community.

The move is expected to cut the resources Niku must devote to developing and maintaining Workbench and provide Workbench customers with the ability to make enhancements to the software on an as-needed basis.

Niku's move to create Open Workbench is a response to customers willing to pay for software that they view as having a lot of value and yet seek less expensive or free alternatives for commodity pieces.

This trend won't hurt software-industry revenue, says Mark Moore, Niku's executive VP for products and services. He adds that reliance on the open-source community to tweak mature products such as Workbench on their own will force software vendors to devote more resources to newer, more sophisticated products that generate greater revenue.

Niku joins software makers Computer Associates and BEA Systems in opening proprietary code. CA in May said it would release its Ingres app-development and data-management software to the open source community in order to foster innovation and encourage developers and application vendors to use the database.

That same month, BEA said it would contribute to the open-source community the framework for WebLogic Workshop, BEA's rapid-app-development tools marketed to developers less-skilled in building Java-based software.

In Niku's case, the company is hoping to mount a greater challenge to Microsoft's Project app while focusing more of its efforts on its own Clarity suite, which debuted in 2001 and accounts for 99% of the company's revenue.

Even though Workbench has 100,000 users, and the product sells for $10,000 per license, "we've made the decision that we can deliver more value by having [Niku's] developers focus on Clarity rather than on Workbench," says David Hurwitz, Niku's VP of marketing.

Niku has released most of the Workbench code at the site, and plans next month to make the code available through, an open-source development site.

Niku has assigned Dan Dumbrill, one of the company's development managers and a veteran developer of Workbench, to manage Open Workbench.

The company isn't opening all of Workbench. The code for Workbench's project-scheduler algorithm, which the company may someday patent, will remain available only in a pre-compiled form. Nor will Niku open Workbench components that it licenses from Microsoft and Rogue Wave Software, now part of application-development toolmaker Quovadx Inc.

Niku has chosen to license Open Workbench under the Mozilla Public License because doing so lets developers contribute their code back to the open-source community or sell their enhancements for profit.

Hurwitz says his company has already licensed Open Workbench to the Indian subsidiary of Magic Software, which plans to sell its own enhanced version of the project.

Opening Workbench code could be an asset for those looking to tweak the product's project-management functions. Financial-services firm Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., which has been using Workbench since it debuted 10 years ago, sees Niku's strategy as a smart one, given its climb to unseat Microsoft's Project at the top of the market. "Workbench is a mature enough product that I think this model is a good fit," says CIO Rick Berk.

Brown Brothers recently purchased a license for Niku's newer Clarity, and is planning to consolidate all of its Workbench-related databases under Clarity. Brown Brothers uses the Workbench module within Clarity to make sure the time its employees spend on certain projects align with those projects' timetables and budgets. It started off using Workbench specifically to track IT projects, but in recent years has extended its use to include work done by the company's financial consultants.

Brown Brothers runs Workbench on an Intel-based Windows server and uses Microsoft SQL as the application's database. From this database, the firm creates project reports that highlight project size, objectives, and success.

Over time, Brown Brothers has developed its own ancillary databases to store information about project budgeting, job prioritization, and resource allocation.

Although Brown Brothers doesn't use Microsoft's Project, Berk says there are advantages and disadvantages to it and Workbench. Primarily, he says, Project has a more intuitive interface, while Workbench has more intricate features.

One such feature allows the firm to calculate the amount of work that can be done at current staffing levels with the amount of work required to complete a job. From there, Brown Brothers can either change a project's delivery date or add additional resources, Berk says.

The company has programmers versed in open source, which gives the firm some flexibility in the way it will use Workbench. "We may do nothing with the source code," Berk says. "Or, if there's a particular feature of Workbench that doesn't quite interface properly, we might look to tweak it." He adds that his department is likely to benefit from contributions that other Niku customers make to Workbench now that much of the code is open.

The proliferation of open-source software has the potential to make the lives of IT management easier, Berk says. Niku's decision, in particular means that Berk and his staff can make changes to the software as needed.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights