First properly introduced in the late 1990s. The concept gained popularity in the early 2000s.

This statement is true for both open-source software and self-service supermarket checkouts. And that is not where the similarities end.

Both industries grapple with the decision to opt for in-house proprietary solutions or leverage the power of the community. Ultimately, many chose the route that enabled them to externalise effort and, at the same time, create greater customer satisfaction.

Checkout Aisle Revolution

Supermarkets have increasingly embraced self-service checkouts. These machines allow customers to scan and bag their purchases independently, reducing the need to staff cash registers. Despite the upfront cost of installing these machines, supermarkets have found that the investment pays off handsomely. In fact, studies find annual savings of about $120,000 on a $60,000 investment in self-checkout, plus a potential for a 40% saving in labour costs after implementing a hybrid self-checkout system.

Open-source software provides similar benefits for businesses. A case in point is Barclays, which reduced its software development costs by 90% by using open-source Linux. Meanwhile, Netflix keeps its monthly prices low for consumers by building its platform entirely on open-source software. Joe McCann of Forbes finds “78% of companies run on open source, and it’s likely the other 22% just don’t realise they are”.

The Security Question

However, security risks are associated with both self-service checkouts and open-source software. For the checkout systems, the risk lies in increased theft. With less oversight, self-service checkouts have led to an increase in theft, with about 3.97% of stock stolen compared to just 1.47% at traditional checkouts.

Similarly, open-source software comes with potential vulnerabilities in the code. Nevertheless, just like supermarkets have found ways to mitigate theft at self-service checkouts, businesses too, have discovered strategies to secure their open-source software. Technologies such as MongoDB or NGINX, which have an active and engaged community, can quickly catch and resolve issues, reducing the risk of major outages. Moreover, commercial vendors provide subscriptions to open-source that offer security and reliability guarantees and guarantee support.

Boosting Productivity, Increasing Reliability

The adoption of self-service checkouts has led to improvements in staff productivity and reliability. With fewer cash losses by employees and less variability due to staffing issues, self-service checkouts improve the availability of cashiers.

Likewise, open-source software can boost productivity in a business. Companies drawn to open-source software find it offers reliable, innovative technology. Commercial vendors provide support, products, and tools to best leverage, scale, and protect the applications being built on top of their systems. This helps companies radically reduce the chances of failure, enhancing reliability and fostering trust among users.

The Checkout Lesson

So, what can we learn from the self-service checkout? It serves as a reminder that an initial investment can yield significant returns in the long run. Like supermarkets, businesses can leverage the power of the community — in this case, the open-source community — to create a more cost-effective and reliable operation. There are risks, but with the right strategies in place, these can be mitigated. The next time you’re at the self-service checkout, remember: you’re not just buying groceries, you’re experiencing a model for business efficiency and innovation that extends far beyond the supermarket.

If you would like help with your open-source strategy, please get in touch with us today at SECTION6. We specialise in partnering, designing, building, and operating mission-critical software that utilises open source. Software made more reliable, scalable, secure, and adaptable at speed due to using open source software correctly. Let us help you make the most of open-source software done right.