I am writing a paper for my GIS MSc and trying to justify a hypothetical move for the EPA from proprietary GIS software to open source (QGIS).

Can anyone hazard an educated guess as to how much ArcGIS would cost an organisation the size of the EPA per year? Are we talking 100,000's or millions?

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    Literally just found this: proceedings.esri.com/library/userconf/feduc05/docs/pap189.pdf - 300 professionals and 500+ part time users... hope that helps estimations! – Christography May 4 '13 at 18:39
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    As someone who does contracted GIS work for EPA (ORD, OWOW, OGWDW) I think it's worth mentioning that they do a lot of work with old (5+ years) addins, modelbuilder models, and custom geoprocessing tools developed specifically for ArcGIS. Any transition from ArcGIS will have to offer legacy support for these tools for it to be viable. – dmahr May 4 '13 at 19:11
  • cheers for the info... will add something along those lines if I have space, but I am ultimately trying to creatively justify a rather strange assignment, namely - Do some analysis in ArcGIS and write up like an EPA report... and then do the same with QGIS, and compare the two... but still in an EPA report... the essay would flow more if I could make up some hypothetical cost saving initiative justifying the use of two programs. – Christography May 4 '13 at 19:44
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    I agree with @dmahr - it's hard to do a cost comparison to meet same requirements unless those requirements are well known. – PolyGeo May 6 '13 at 4:03
  • try also to comment on h2oMAP. – user18425 May 23 '13 at 4:11

Plain and simple: the bottleneck if you are dependent on software as a tool will always be the software; and the bottleneck for advancing the state of the art for software will always be software developers. If you are not a programmer and you use software to solve problems at work, you will always be beholden to this simple and often annoying arrangement.

From this, you have a three choices: do it yourself, pay someone else to do it, or hope somebody does it and shares it with you. If you're not a developer, the first option is out. If you can afford to hire a programmer and/or license software that already does it, you can go with the second option. If your workflow is commoditized and simple enough that it's in the open source stack (and more and more gets to this point all the time) then you can use OSS, with the awareness that option #1 still stays in play: you're dependent on software developers who are either scratching an itch and have no compelling reason to support you all the way through your journey of discovery, or you are paying large license fees to have throats to choke for software that is delivered as a black box but fulfills your needs.

All in all, this is a complicated issue. Software to this day is still hard to write and still requires programmers of some level of skill. Programmers like paying their bills. Whether you find a way to leverage the work of others through common interest (off-the-shelf open source, grant-funded projects) or by paying for work (sponsoring developers to contribute to open source, getting grants for vested third parties or buying commercial) is a per-case judgement call. I think in general buying off the shelf is still cheaper than hiring programmers to help out because the cost-per-person is amortized across every organization that pays a license, but you might get better domain specific tools by hiring people to work for you locally. And if you have enough smart people already working for you, the cost of using/getting productive with open source versus the time spent learning its quirks will look fiscally viable.

The comments on this recent thread should also prove helpful.

  • +1 for the right perspective needed for evaluating Open source, and not being an OpenSource Zealot! – Devdatta Tengshe May 23 '13 at 9:06
  • I'm critical concerning the presumption that proprietary black boxes a priori fulfill the needs better than OSS. But good statements on the three choices which are available when there is a need to extend OSS. – Matthias Kuhn Oct 7 '15 at 12:50

@PaulRamsey wrote a very good blog article that described how Pierce County, WA integrated open source with closed source software. He also gave a presentation called "Open Source for IT Managers" (if you don't want to watch the whole thing, start at 42:35), which describe some of the cost savings, and issues, of using both closed and open source. In many cases the two options can, in fact, live happily together rather than being forced to "choose" from one or the other.

Glancing through the program for the 2013 FOSS4G-NA conference, I also see a couple of presentations along the same subject called "Open Source GIS at Pierce County, WA" and "Selling Open Source to the Census Bureau". Hopefully these presentations will be recorded or slides posted after the event completes, and would give some good ideas on this subject.

Lastly, you might also gain some useful information by reading a couple of articles by David A. Wheeler:

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