Thus far I've been able to resist an annually occurring itch to post a set of predictions for the newly minted year. Unfortunately this means I won't delve into how 2008 is going to somehow lead to the dissolution of the proprietary software development model (I don't see the former ever fully occurring) or why a given open source category/product/company is set to become the next world-beater (if I knew that I probably wouldn't be posting on this blog). However, there is, in fact, a noticeable trend which speaks to the how the maturation of the open source model is only one component of the grander evolution taking place within the entire software industry.
After attempting to portray how open source ecosystems can double as platforms, I think its logical to assert that they also serve as organic collaboration networks. Where the more open, flatter structural composition of these ecosystems creates a hotbed for the brand of collaboration that is required to scale in an increasingly "globalized" world. Interestingly, at the core of the seemingly generic term, collaboration, is the seeds for disruptive innovation. Webster's supplies the following as a definition - something (as a device) created for the first time through the use of the imagination. Yet despite the fact that in today's Information-driven world innovation is no longer entirely pursuant to the physical domain, the term continues to be erroneously coined, misused and cliched more than is worth mentioning.
Nonetheless, open source has proven capable of naturally cultivating the germination of disruptive innovation. Perhaps because full-blooded innovation in this current age is synonymous with openness. Simply put, to innovate is to embrace openness and vice-versa, seeing how innovation mandates a high degree of collaboration across the board. And since the relationship between innovation, collaboration and openness is a topic that warrants a dedicated post, at the least, or a book to be safe, it suffices to suggest that if you're not engaged in dismantling barriers to participation you're probably not innovating very effectively.
Yet even as open source has continues to emerge as a reliable method of integrating the principles of openness into the software development model (and the business of software at a macro level) openness doesn't always (more times than not it doesn't) entail open source. So even if the open source development model, in particular, has yet to satisfy the clamoring for radical creativity exhibited by some this doesn't exactly disprove openness as an innovation accelerator, in general. Still, a cogent analysis of how open source has powered disruptive innovation should consider its affect on:
- Software cost-value models. In addition to enabling more cost-effective software to be created, the primary wave of commercial open source continues to shape the consensus expectation for the cost-value ratio's of the majority of software categories.
- Acquisition mechanisms for enterprise quality software. There are countless examples of how open source has contributed to the divestment of monetary barriers from the process of acquiring software used in production environments.
- Investments in the software development process. Direct investment in open source software communities responsible for projects that are strategically aligned with organizational objectives has become a valid option. In addition to the traditional routes of in-house development, outsourcing, third-party customized development and purchasing COTS.
Most classify the above as "disruption" plain and simple, when in fact, it is also a form of rapid innovation...one that just so happens to shift the very foundation of the current status quo. The downstream effect will give birth to a new class of roles geared to leveraging resulting opportunities. In this light, forward-thinking organizations will take advantage of the option to establish themselves as active participants in the open source productive process as opposed to limited inactive consumers of its output (software assets). More of these companies will consider connecting directly to open source ecosystems, engaging and building value collaboratively with the different members therein. In parallel to this trend, leading open source ecosystems will evolve into bona-fide sources of software innovation made possible by a sense of mutually-beneficially collaboration.
Accordingly, I see the following roles assuming new meaning during the aforementioned transformation of the open source model as a productive process. The shift
- Facilitator - The driving force behind the existence of an open source ecosystem. Could be a commercial company or a not-for-profit organization.
- Adapter/Accelerator - Third parties that serve as a form of technology transformers. They account for the bulk of the customizations and indirect uses of open source software. This category is set to swell as open source becomes the engine for new categories of software and software uses. Examples: system integrators, value added resellers, etc.
- Active Contributor - Organizations embarking upon a continuous cycle of IP contribution to an open source ecosystem.
Deutsche Post's decision to enter a collaborative partnership, involving the Swordfish SOA framework, with the Eclipse Foundation is a prime example of such. In this case, Eclipse is the main Facilitator, Sopera an Adapter/Accelerator and Deutsche Post the Active Contributor...not to insinuate that these roles won't be shared in part by all three parties, either. What stands out most is that this isn't a startup looking to attach to the Eclipse gravy train, rather it is the world's largest German logistics company contributing proven, mature technology that has been running for six years. The code initially contained a framework, a messaging plug-in, a service discovery plug-in and a management plug-in...no small potatoes, at all. Meaning Deutsche Post saw, not only, the opportunity to collaborate with Eclipse in enabling the implementation of OSGi-based service providers and consumers, but also the value of doing so as fully open task under Eclipse governance.
Staying on the Eclipse track, we find Boeing contributing code to OSEE. Where the objective is to create an industry-specific framework with a team of Boeing engineers leading the way. Yet the pattern in clear: business needs being met under an open source umbrella using a Connect-Engage-Build approach. When contrasted with mainstream views that interacting with an open source community is the result of goodwill or the mandate to "give as you take," there is a stark difference. These efforts don't mark the good-hearted nature of Boeing nor Deutsche Post, rather they are working examples of a new twist to the notion of traditional IT investments, led by companies which understand that there's more to gain from accepting an actively productive role in open source ecosystems.
Eventually I fully expect a monetization model to sprout around these activities where all participants begin to embrace and integrate these relationships and roles more closely into their business models. Interestingly enough the barriers are hardly technological, i.e. there is a substantial number of technologies at the center of open source ecosystems, but momentum-based, i.e. how much acceptance is necessary to overcome latent inertia.