When two vibrant technology sectors collide

by Roberto Rivero, advisor at Lerex Technology

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Open-source software (OSS) has arrived in the world of payments. Roberto Rivero, advisor at Lerex Technology, explains the benefits of OSS over in-house developments and commercial (or closed source) software.

What is open-source software?

This year’s Money20/20 Europe witnessed the arrival of OSS to the world of payments.

According to Wikipedia, OSS is “computer software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose”. This means the software is distributed with source code that anyone can see and change, within the limitations of the license.

Often (but not always), OSS will be developed and maintained by its user community in a collaborative way, with contributors making their work available freely to others.

The use of OSS is not new and is responsible for bringing about some of the most revolutionary products in the technology industry, including Apache, Mozilla Firefox, the Linux operating system and even Google’s Chrome.

The benefits of open-source software

Using OSS can bring amazing benefits, including cost and time savings, transparency, security, control, and much more.

The most obvious benefit of OSS is, of course, that it is usually free. Further, when OSS is open to collaboration, finding and fixing problems is, to a large extent, outsourced to the community and the costs of maintenance are either shared, or received for free. However, this is not the only advantage. Very often, it’s not even the most important one.

The second most obvious benefit is that OSS will save you time. Even if what is available for free does not do everything you need, it will likely give you a huge jump start in your own development journey. Getting your new product to market sooner, or freeing your own resources to work on something else earlier than would otherwise be the case, are frequently much more important than saving money. This means the time saving aspect of OSS is frequently its most valuable feature.

More importantly, it creates a sense of belonging and community. When OSS is open to contribution, this can propel thousands of skilled programmers around to world to improve the software and make it faster, safer and better – benefiting countless other developers and, in turn, their software users.

Open-source software can, therefore, be more reliable than commercial software because it often has thousands of programmers with a wide variety of requirements using it, testing it and fixing problems they encounter.

Unlike most commercial options, OSS allows you to look at the source code yourself and determine whether it is of good quality or not, making it significantly more transparent than commercial software.

Apart from helping you to determine the quality of the software, this opacity vs transparency issue also impacts security. Perhaps counterintuitively, fans of OSS strongly believe that the fact that the source code has had thousands of skilled eyes on it, means that it is much less likely to include security vulnerabilities.

In addition, compared to commercial software, OSS gives you a much greater degree of control. Users can scrutinise the code and change the parts they don’t like or add functionality where they need it. This agility means using OSS instead of commercial software can enable an organisation to react more quickly to new requirements. It eliminates the barrier of waiting for your supplier to understand, prioritise and deliver the features you need – you can develop them yourself.

Crucially, the life and ongoing usefulness of OSS is not dependent on the health or activity of the company that created it. Even if the creating organisation ceases to exist, the software can continue to live and evolve in useful ways.

OSS in the payments space

Open-source software brings with it a long list of fabulous practical benefits to developers, companies and, once implemented, to their customers.

We are excited about the arrival of OSS to another vibrant corner of the technology industry – payments – and fervently believe that their combination will accelerate innovation and increase the value add provided by our industry. But how?

Here are three examples of its likely impact:

  • OSS will reduce the amount of time it takes to develop new solutions, literally, from months to weeks.
  • By freeing programmers from having to invest time in generic, repetitive developments, it will allow them to focus more time on the really unique areas of their products – on their real differentiations and on features with a high value-add.
  • OSS will reduce the time to develop MVPs to, literally, days. This will make it easier to raise money from investors and accelerate the time to reach revenue generation.

In short, the ‘head start’ provided by OSS will reduce risks and up-front costs – and accelerate revenue generation.

Roberto Rivero, advisor at Lerex Technology

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