Benay’s Blanket: The statements that shook up the open source community

A blanket statement is a generalization - something that covers everything, like a metaphorical blanket. There is an implication when using "blanket statement" that it may be an over-generalization.

The open source vs proprietary technology debate has been going on for years. However, today I don’t believe it’s a question of either/or, but rather which is right for a specific need. 

I’m happy to see the merits of open source are becoming clearer as big companies and government agencies continue to adopt its technology.

Yet, the debate continues ...

In November, the Government of Canada’s Chief Information Officer Alex Benay reached out to the Canadian community (via LinkedIn) for feedback regarding open source technology. Known for being a disruptor and provoking intense discussions, I believe he framed his statements in hopes of creating controversy and firing up engagement.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been following the debate closely, gathering my thoughts alongside my colleagues. I’ve also been collecting insight from influential stakeholders in the open source industry.

Full Disclosure
My company, OPIN, is a digital agency that specializes in Drupal - an open source content management system - to create and deploy the some of world’s most ambitious digital projects. 

It’s the Drupal community that makes it easy to be passionate about the technology. It’s a really welcoming and friendly collection of people. Plus, I love a great product.

I address Drupal specifically as it is my expertise. It’s an example of open source technology that has a lower total cost of ownership than proprietary competitors and is industry-leading in terms of accessibility. My approach is to show how Drupal doesn’t fall under Benay’s blanket statement for open source.

Blanket Statement #1
“Open source is more expensive for web than proprietary technology from a total cost of ownership perspective.”

Tom Cochran, Acquia's Chief Digital Strategist and Public Sector VP - who ran digital platforms at the White House and U.S. Department of State - states:

"When comparing the cost of proprietary vs. open source technology for public sector agencies, it's impossible to make a blanket statement claiming one is more expensive than the other. The costs vary from project to project—looking at the total cost of ownership (TCO), there are a number of instances when proprietary is the more expensive option, and several examples when open source is. A strategic business leader must factor in the value a project brings against the TCO of the technology—whether it’s open source or proprietary—over time.”

In both Tom and my experience, we’ve seen open source technology shift the cost burden from products to services. Proprietary products lock agencies into a walled garden of technology to keep them as a customer. In contrast, when choosing open source, business leaders decide to spend budget on the people and services to support their platforms—factors that give agencies the ability to agilely adapt to new challenges and business needs. 

Tom adds:

“We see this play out time and time again. It’s a lot easier to replace an open source vendor than it is to replace a whole proprietary platform, and there is considerable value in that flexibility. It also drives up the need for the open source vendor to provide greater value and a higher level of service in order to maintain its business with a public sector customer.”

Blanket Statement #2
“Open source is not accessible compliant.”

In the Drupal community, we have recognized accessibility is important and created a working group to ensure the technology complies with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This specific group of Drupal developers dedicate their thoughts, work and efforts to ensuring Drupal is industry-leading in this aspect. 

Keep in mind, standards are constantly changing. Organizations need to invest in the constant. Drupal’s community is continuously looking for ways to improve and these changes can be brought to market immediately.

My industry colleague Mike Gifford from OpenConcept has more on this:
“Thanks to a small team of volunteers who have been pushing Drupal's accessibility over almost a decade I'm happy to say that Drupal is the most accessible CMS out there. Most other CMSs don't even look at accessibility of the interactive layers of their sites yet.”


When drafting this response, I spent some time trying to figure out why Benay framed the debate as he did. It’s been said that Benay is the biggest force for promoting open source adoption in the Government of Canada, yet his post was positioning open source in a negative light. 

I believe Benay framed the debate this way in an effort to encourage thought leaders to disprove a common perception of collaborative open source development. I’m hoping by adding my voice, and the voices of my industry colleagues, to the conversation we will help dispel any generalizations or misunderstandings about open source.

Chris Smith is the CEO of OPIN Software Inc. Learn what OPIN can do for you at