When to use open-source project management

In the hospitality industry, project management (PM) has a broad range of applications. It can cover anything from new construction and renovation to new service offerings, training programs, IT development or brand repositioning.

As in any industry, there’s clear value in using project-management software that helps plan and fulfill demands within a limited time frame and budget. But it can be difficult to find software that conforms to disparate project types, and even more difficult to gauge how much upfront investment will guarantee a strong return on investment.

Across all industries, spending on project- and portfolio-management software rises every year. Gartner’s 2013 evaluation placed the market at US$1.65 billion, up from US$1.48 billion the prior year. That’s not necessarily a bad sign, since it means project-focused companies are wrangling for competitive advantage, and they’re using technology to do it. The problem is, almost 60% of the market is dominated by five vendors.

Why open-source?

Open-source offers many (if not all) of the features of proprietary software, but is built and maintained by a community of public developers. That means the source code is publicly accessible, and the software itself is often free or available at a much lower price point than closed-source products.

While open-source certainly has its critics, many users are attracted by its flexibility, crowd-sourced design and public user support. Some even prefer it to closed-source, especially in the IT sector. A study by the Ponemon Institute revealed that 74% of IT professionals think open-source software (OSS) offers better continuity and control than proprietary software.

Although features can vary greatly between products depending on their intended use, here are some common hotel project management functions found in most open-source systems:

  • Gantt and burndown charts
  • Work-breakdown structure
  • Risk analysis and change management
  • Resource management
  • Agile planning tools (sprints, backlogs, kanban boards)
  • Budgeting/financial planning

When to use it

In recent years, open-source development has produced well-known software such the Apache HTTP Server, OpenOffice, GitHub, Mozilla Firefox, VLC, Gimp and the Linux OS distributions. Similarly, open-source communities have generated dozens of acclaimed project-management solutions for a variety of different uses, whether it be IT development or something less technical, like business planning.

Here are some scenarios where open-source PM might be a good choice in the hotel industry:

You need a PM solution that can be customized to fit your workflows: Proprietary software has gotten better at allowing user customization, but even the most versatile product can only be modified down to the custom-field level. If you’re looking for a solution that you can customize and re-mold from top to bottom as your business needs change, open source can afford you this kind of flexibility. For example, you need a system for managing a back-end development project, but three months later, you need to manage a site construction project. Granted, the source code modifications required to make these changes will require fairly extensive IT knowledge (to which you may or may not have access).

You want to try project management software on an ad-hoc project: Signing a contract with a software vendor is a big commitment, even for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription. Some hotel managers might be interested in PM software, but not ready to sign up for a contract. This is a good opportunity to try running an ad-hoc project (say, a renovation) through a free or low-cost open-source system and get a read on the short-term ROI. You can usually conduct a free trial of PM software, but the trial term limits (7 days, 14 days) might prevent you from making any conclusive analysis.

Your team primarily works from the same location: One of the bigger selling points of modern, proprietary systems is their ability to run from the cloud. Users can access cloud-based software from virtually any location with Internet access. But that doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Some cloud PM software can cost hundreds of dollars per month. OSS, on the other hand, is more often downloaded and installed on-premise, since no one is financing a remote server. If your team primarily works from the same location, you can cut costs by using a free or low-cost open-source tool.

Popular open source PM tools include:

ProjectLibre: Open-source replacement of Microsoft Project; free on-premise

Odoo: Agile, social, open-source project management; free for up to two users

Redmine: Flexible project-management application written using the Ruby on Rails framework; free on-premise

Assembla: Collaborative, agile project management and bug-tracking for IT projects; free hosting for “community and open-source” projects

Agilefant: Turnkey agile management tool with paid or open-source editions; free on-premise (open-source); monthly fee for cloud versions

Open-source PM isn’t always the right choice for every hotel management company. If you have limited IT knowledge, if you need a solution with more predictable support or if your projects require heavy collaboration between dispersed teams, you might be better served by proprietary software. And remember, no software is truly “free.” Whether you pay a monthly subscription for a cloud system or pay an IT administrator to upkeep your OSS, there will be some cost of ownership.

In the right context, open-source project management can give your teams more flexibility and access to industry-standard tools for a fraction of the cost. Whether it’s adding a new wing to one of your locations or designing an eLearning program for new hires, you can finish your projects on time and under budget.


Contributed by Aleksandr Peterson, technology analyst, TechnologyAdvice, Brentwood, Tennessee