Why must I find “FREE or Low Cost” Solutions for your business?

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Why must I find “FREE or Low Cost” Solutions for your business?

A fundamental of business is to maximize profit by getting the most bang for the buck.  It shouldn’t even have to be explicitly stated to any department head or employee.

Time and again, I see posts on industry forums from IT pros tasked with solving various issues with "preferably a free or low-cost solution".  Certainly, if it can be done with free or low-cost solutions, there is nothing wrong with that, but often it’s a serious or mission-critical objective and the poster is looking to cobble something together.  What is it about IT staff and management where the long-term costs are dismissed so regularly for short-term savings?

Operations and accounting aren’t expected to do their order management or bookkeeping on the back of scrap paper because there are ATO expectations for clear, orderly books.

Human resources doesn’t calculate withholding and insurance and taxes on a calculator, manually write checks, and run to employee banks to make direct deposits, because there are severe penalties if they do it wrong.

Manufacturing doesn’t get free parts or tools or keep parts inventory on a hodge podge of shelving found on the street or at Op Shops because if it falls on someone there will be law suits and worker’s compensation.

Shipping isn’t expected to just get along with a roll of packing tape and a scissors instead of a tape dispenser, find free boxes, or convince an employee to deliver something on their way home because the company doesn’t want hourly employees spending additional time making up for inferior equipment.

So, if there is a legitimate need for an IT device, service, or software product to solve problems and work faster, why is it that, so often, it is perfectly normal to skip over evaluation of products that are supported, warranted, continuously improved, and capable, and settle for something that requires a lot more work to fit the purpose because it is free or low-cost?  

Why is a manufactured server too expensive, but a desktop with software RAID and a consumer motherboard a solution?  How can a collection of freeware integrated with homemade scripts to shuttle data around be more reliable and less time consuming to support?  Is there no benefit to version 10 of QA-tested software with an installed base of 100,000, and a dedicated product team and programmers to address bugs and add new valuable features?

After spending 20+ years managing IT, I’ve found that cobbled together solutions are usually anything but free or low cost.  They start with good intentions and often a pat on the back from the owner or CxO, but then insidiously rob IT staff of time, make IT look bad when it breaks, spend nights and weekends getting it working with no one to call, and end up undocumented and difficult to support.

What are your experiences?  Have you gotten burned purchasing a free or low-cost solution by your own choosing or a mandate from management, only to spend a lot of time getting it to work together and in need of constant attention?

Let us know.