Proprietary vs. Open Source Technology – Which is better?

In any tech industry, we see manufacturers taking one of two approaches. They develop proprietary closed-loop solutions that tightly integrate with the company's other products and services. Or, more frequently, they go the open-source route, offering white-labeled technology from other manufacturers.  Which is the best solution?

The primary argument for an open-source integration platform architecture is obvious. It allows a company to provide what it considers best-of-breed products unified through a single source platform designed to accept any hardware. In theory, this sounds quite attractive. But there are inherent risks with adopting a solution that was not built specifically with specific customer needs in mind and may present challenges with product training and implementation. In the self-storage sector, just as in any industry that relies heavily on technology, one size does not fit all.

Some of the main issues include:


  • Security – A platform that can accept other manufacturers must connect to a wide range of offerings. That can expose it to frequent and critical security risks. A closed-loop system designed to operate only with specific hardware keeps the door shut tightly on security threats that impact performance. 

  • Performance – In some cases, elements of functionality or specific features must be removed or disabled to ensure the hardware works with components from other manufacturers. That can result in a “dumbing down” of the solution as a whole, meaning that customers don’t actually get the intended experience when it passes through the secondary operator.

  • Experience – Companies that implement and sell technology from other companies typically do not have the depth and breadth of understanding about the industry, its needs, or even the intended objectives, architecture, and opportunities to maximize functionality of the products attached to the system.  In essence, these companies are not much more than integrators, pulling together the assets needed for a given use case or facility. They may have limited experience in bringing these systems to life, and may rely heavily on the dealer for implementation, taking longer to meet customer needs.

  • Total Cost of Ownership – Companies that leverage technology from other manufacturers can typically get to market faster and at a lower cost. This is because they don’t invest in product development or research, just integration. But often times the total cost of ownership (TCO) is higher for open-source solutions when you factor in the purchase price as well as the operating costs of multiple cobbled-together solutions, versus one closed-loop platform.

  • Reliability – One thing that is true for all technology: it will break or need upgrading at some point.  When the system goes down, the most frustrating experience for an operator is to call the company that sold their system, only to be told that they are not immediately prepared to resolve an issue. They may need to call another manufacturer to get answers because it’s not their in-house product.  Therefore, support issues may be both more numerous and more costly to resolve.

  • Innovation –Companies that use open-source technology do not have the technological understanding of a product’s original architecture, components, or functionality. Not developing products themselves means that they are completely reliant on other manufacturers for new product introductions or upgrades. They will never be first to market as they have to wait until product originators release new technology to partners and resellers. They will not become subject matter experts on the components themselves, only the integration, and can’t expertly guide customers to what’s next.

To summarize, companies that opt to get a quick foothold in an industry often skip a step. They copy the integration playbook of other manufacturers to realize short-term savings, which they may pass along to customers. But those same customers often end up paying more to overcome a lackluster feature set fraught with support issues. In security, open source is a short-term fix while closed-loop is the long-term path to better performance and ROI.

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