For surveyors, construction and architectural firms, government agencies and others, it’s expensive to onboard new geospatial technology and to budget for it. This is why the greatest recent breakthrough in IT budget savings has come in the form of cloud-based technologies that nearly every geospatial technology vendor today offers.

The flexibility of the cloud enables companies to put new IT spending in the operating budget, instead of registering it as a capital expense for hardware and software that must be amortized over time. Subscription and/or pay-for-use payment models for cloud services also make cloud-based geospatial technology  a discretionary budget item that can be ramped up or down by management based upon the demand for  the service — or even ramped down if there is a general corporate need, such as lower than expected revenues, to reduce service levels for a time.

But a recent conversation that  I had with Boundless Geospatial, a vendor in the geospatial application marketplace, ignited an additional and oft neglected area of IT savings opportunity: the ability to use open source geospatial applications that come with no software licensing fees to pay for. Not having licensing fees is in sharp contrast to the many proprietary products in the market that charge for use based upon the number of cores or CPUs that you consume.

“We found that many of our customers have a major challenge obtaining geospatial software in the commercial marketplace because of the high costs of installing IT infrastructure and paying for software licenses,” says Anthony Calamito, federal chief technology officer at Boundless.

Andy Dearing, CEO of Boundless, recalls how one customer, a coffee company, was confronted with this problem.

“The company wanted to use the cloud and to scale up its usage as demand grew,” Dearing says. “But when management  began to look at some of the solutions that were available in the marketplace, and to project what the incrementation of usage and corresponding software licensing fees were likely to be for scale-up, the dollar projections were cost prohibitive from a budget standpoint. This presented the company with a barrier to entry that it needed to get around.”

From a budgetary standpoint, Calamito says there are really three different ways to look at software licensing for geospatial systems. “There is the proprietary software licensing model, where you are charged by the number of CPUs or cores that you use. Then there is the pure open source software model for geospatial where there are no licensing costs, but you are on your own when it comes to installing and maintaining the software. Finally, there is a middle ground, where you get the license-free open source software, but you also contract with the geospatial vendor for technical support and service in implementation and/or in follow-up daily support.”

In his business, Calamito says the hybrid cost model, which combines free open source software with pay-for support services, is most popular for companies using geospatial applications.

“The hybrid approach gives companies both economy/affordability and access to the technical support that they need but they can’t afford to have on staff,” he says.

So, is an open source geospatial system always the best solution? Only if the geospatial system that best fits your company uses open source. Nevertheless, if you are in the process of evaluating new geospatial technology, considering an open source platform can be a budgetary advantage. And the best news is that variety of companies (including Boundless Geospatial,  FalconView,  Terralib, Kalypso, Capaware  and others) offer it.