Free Applicant Tracking Software Is Not Free

Let's paint a picture. It is a picture that has been painted many times in the corporate world, always slightly different each time, of course, but immediately recognizable as another instance of the same thing. In order to save money, the company picks up some free, open source software. I'm not talking about Ruby or any of the other open source software that let engineers do their thing, as the nature of engineers tend to make these things work when enough of them are using the same thing. I'm speaking of an end user with more experience with people than with computers, a Human Resources employee, for example. In order to save money, this individual has gone out there onto the Internet, found some free Applicant Tracking Software, and started using it.

Now, the argument for using Applicant Tracking Software, especially from the standpoint of a small business, can sound very convincing. In these tough economic times, the business is making less money, yet every job that gets posted is hit by more and more applications. Why should the fact that people are out of a job become a business expense and push more people out of work by increasing expenses?

The answer to this argument is that the costs of free software are hidden. Why do engineers like working with open source products? They find problems, spend work time making the tool better, and share their fix with the rest of the world. Others out there do the same, and the tool gets bigger and better. Now, the Human Resources employee has been working with the software for a week or two and suddenly runs into a crippling bug. What happens?

The system freezes is what happens!

Not being an engineer, the Human Resources employee is not capable of continuing the expected cadence of fix and release that is inherent in open source software. This individual is now at the mercy of either asking for a fix from in-house engineers, who will be busy with something else if such engineers even exist at this fictional company, or for a fix from the open source community at large. This might happen suddenly, but what about until then? Until then, the company is using buggy software. Had the company used a reputable application tracking software instead, then the obligation that can be leveraged against the producers of that software would have thought about an expedited fix to the problem, so costing the company less lost productivity via bugs. In the end, free is not free. Always be cognizant of this.

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