Open source ISVs get bona fide customer referrals

For the open source development community, identifying professional customers willing to shell out money for a project can be a challenge, according to a developer of VoIP technologies.

Australia-based Craig Southeren said a community linking open source developers with bona fide businesses looking for real solutions is lacking. “As a developer, when I’m located in Australia, it’s often very hard to tell whether this person who sends me an e-mail out of the blue has money to spend on a problem,” he said.

But Southeren has been recently invited to join a Developer Network created by Toronto-based VoIP technology vendor Sangoma Technologies Corp., through which potential customers can contact him via a referral process of sorts.

The recently launched online platform, on which open source developers can list their profiles with links to their VoIP projects, currently houses seven developers, hand-picked by Sangoma, with more members in the pipeline. Customers seeking solutions are directed to the site by Sangoma, with the assurance that the profiled developers are only those with which the company has a business association.

According to Sangoma’s chief software engineer Nenad Corbic, the open source community creates great projects not often known to customers seeking solutions. “[The Developer Network] is a perfect fit between trying to marry the open source community and the business community,” he said, “and we’re kind of wedged in between.”

The idea is that if customers want a specialized solution that Sangoma does not offer, then instead of letting “them go out in the wild and try to get these applications written by some third party”, said Corbic, referring customers to a community of developers deemed trustworthy is a service unto itself.

And the benefit is bi-directional. Developers like Southeren have the assurance that people who contact them are not just customers looking for free support or graduate students trying to finish a thesis. Instead, the setup gives Southeren “a feeling of confidence… that we know [the customer] is going to be a professional company.”

But while there already do exist open source communities for showcasing developer wares, Corbic said sites like SourceForge are often not exclusive enough. “The problem with open source development is credibility,” he said. “If someone looks at an open source project, who is going to vouch for that open source project?”

The Developer Network is free for developers to post profiles, as well as for customers to contact developers. However, the indirect benefit to Sangoma, acknowledged Corbic, is the possibility of partnering with some of these open source projects that stem from this community. “We are right in the guts of VoIP networks so there’s a good chance that we’ll be part of a solution,” he said.

While the platform is currently profile-based, Sangoma plans to add project and solution-based search functionality for potential customers. The site is expected to grow and eventually be home to hundreds of developers. And although membership is currently by invitation, interested developers who have not worked with Sangoma can apply to post a profile.

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