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The Community Source Approach to Software Development and the Kuali Experience

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Credit: Serge Bertasius Photography

Weighing options for enterprise systems development, the CIO of a large U.S. university recognized the university's legacy systems were practically obsolete. In addition to their costly maintenance, they were failing to keep up with changes in the university's processes. Moreover, their siloed structure raised barriers to information exchange across the university's multiple schools and business units. From the CIO's perspective, a new enterprise system was needed to bring the university's information architecture up to speed. But how to achieve such an ambitious objective?

The decision was far from trivial. As highlighted by Kvavik et al.,10 "Enterprise system implementation is one of the single largest investments higher education institutions ever make." Given the anticipated expense and complexity, the CIO had to choose from three options: revamp the existing systems in-house; acquire and customize a commercially available platform; or take an approach called open-source software development, or OSSD.24 The retooling option would fail to address ongoing maintenance and increasing platform complexity. The proprietary option promised a mature system with extensive features and vendor support, but high costs and limited flexibility were major disadvantages. The OSSD approach promised greater flexibility and cost savings, but limited control over the development process and indefinite support were significant. How could the university weigh the pros and cons of these options? Should other approaches be considered?


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