Business Architecture – The Open Road to Open Source Software

by admin on October 2, 2009

Yippee-ki yi- yay…….that well-worn ‘old west’ cowboy cry that some would not find out of keeping with the popular image in some quarters of open source software. Most of us have heard about open source software and many of us think we have a sense of what it is about.

Many of us see it as being about ‘techie’ software, written by ‘beard & sandals’ brigade academics and hackers, that will run your computer more reliably than M$ ever did. This of course being predicated on the dubious assumption that you could figure out how to find and install it….never mind the issues to do with ongoing development, support, training, etc.

Those perceptions, while still partially correct, disguise how far the open source movement has come in the past 5-10 years. While open source offerings with interesting names like Linux, Apache, MySQL, Python and Tomcat are very much still part of the order of the day, and still free, they have become much more accessible and important.

You now routinely find statistics showing that this ‘techie’ so-called LAMP Stack software accounts for a high and growing percentage of installations on the server farms and routers that run the modern world’s computing and internet infrastructure.

Not only has it become more friendly to install and configure, but its operational reliability puts many name-brand proprietary competitors to shame……not bad for free software written by ‘geeks’ in their spare time!

Although, to be fair, these days you are almost as likely to find well-paid staff at some of the world’s best know corporations (e.g. IBM, Novelle, Sun, Cisco, etc) being encouraged to spend time developing open source offerings so that their employers can gain a foot-hold in this fast-moving and very innovative space.

You see, the big guys have finally woken up to the fact that free doesn’t necessarily mean limited feature sets or poor quality.

And, more to the point, just like any other maturing industry, software is beginning to become increasingly commoditised over time (i.e. due to competitive effects people become used to paying less and less….which is generally bad for profits!).

Therefore, when an interesting new phenomena appears, where something you used to pay for is now free to all, and people are making money from it via other means……e.g. business models based on advertising, training, support, customisations, etc, you tend to get the attention of the top brass. And what the top brass is rubbing their eyes in some dismay over is the fact that the post-baby-boomer generation loves the open source ethos.

Open source is not just about being free, open source is also tied up with less tangible ideals like social responsibility and work-life balance.

They may not fully understand it, or feel it’s charms for themselves, but the top brass does know (albeit grudgingly) that open source is not just a flash in the pan and that it will be an ever more prominent force driving their strategies….as regards their markets, their customers and their own employees (e.g. recruitment & retention).

So all-aboard the open source software band-wagon!

Anyway, as we have mentioned before, a fair bit of this open source software stuff is pretty good and the top brass has finally woken up to the fact that there is more than one way to turn a profit beyond the ‘old school’ practice of charging for software by the seat or CPU.

In fact, perhaps not surprisingly, it gets even better.

It turns out that open source is not just about techie systems software like operating systems, web servers, programming languages and databases anymore. These are still there and doing very well thank you, but now there are also credible competitors appearing for the office productivity suite so long dominated by M$.

M$ probably believed it had everything sewed up when the likes of Wordperfect, Borland and eventually even IBM/Lotus essentially ceded the ground and left the field of battle. Sure, some of this software survived in niches, and M$ was happy for it to do so as it blunted the occasional accusations of monopoly. However, although M$ saw them coming, they didn’t quite believe any open source challenger could be a serious threat.

But now we see the likes of OpenOffice and StarOffice beginning to give M$ a real run for its money on the desktop. Further, new online versions of office productivity software…….e.g. Google Docs, ZoHo, ThinkFree to name a few…….are also beginning to pose credible alternatives to the flagship M$ offering.

None may (as yet) be as fully featured or as slick as the M$ offering, but a few already offer all the features the vast majority of users actually use…..and they only keep getting better with each successive generation. Add to this the increasing number of businesses and government organisations adopting them as standard issue. Poor M$………

Just for the record, we are not actually M$ bashers. We use some of their products daily, but it is good to see competition returning to a market so obviously lacking it for so long!

But wait, even more to our bemusement is that the open source software escalator does not stop with techie LAMP Stack software or even the office productivity suite alternatives.

Increasingly there are credible open source software offerings in virtually every major category of enterprise-class business application!

These enterprise-class offerings include:

  • BI = Business Intelligence
  • CAD = Computer Aided Design
  • CMMS = Computer Maintenance Management System
  • CMS = Content Management System
  • CPM = Corporate Portfolio Management
  • CRM = Customer Relationship Management
  • EAI = Enterprise Application Integration
  • EDM = Electronic Document Management
  • ERP = Enterprise Resources Planning
  • LIMS = Laboratory Instrument Management System
  • MES = Manufacturing Execution System
  • PDM = Product Data Management
  • PLM = Product Lifecycle Management
  • PPM = Programme & Project Management
  • SCADA = Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition
  • SCM = Supply Chain Management
  • SFA = Sales Force Automation
  • SFDC = Shop Floor Data Collection
  • WMS = Warehouse Management System

And this list is not trying to be exhaustive let alone complete!

Never mind M$, these developments also put proprietary enterprise software giants like SAP, Oracle, Siebel, AutoCAD, PTC and many others in the ‘we have open source competition’ frame.

It would be disingenuous to over-claim about how much of a threat these open source enterprise-class business applications currently are to their proprietary brethren. Many are small-fry, and even the larger among them face issues of performance and scalability in terms of serving large organisations. This is again not to mention legitimate concerns about ongoing development, support, training, etc in these mission critical enterprise application areas.

But hang on, we’ve been here before have we not? All open source software was once justifiably tarred with these concerns. And now the most mature of them, the techie LAMP Stack stuff like Linux and Apache, dominate in running many of the back-room servers for some of the world’s largest organisations……..e.g. the giant US Postal Service, one of America’s Top-50 sized organisations, is migrating to Linux powered servers for its uber-mission-critical sorting and tracking systems due to the TCO (total cost of ownership) and reliability advantages it offers!

And in terms of general desktop applications, and specifically the office productivity suite, open source software is an emerging force with an increasing presence as businesses, government and the general public begin to get to grips with it and its advantages.

So then onto the enterprise-class business applications. Some of them historically so prohibitively expensive that few outside of large corporates and governments could afford them. And yes, these too are now beginning to see functionally rich competition from open source software alternatives.

No, they are not yet a major threat, but as for the earlier waves of open source software before them, they are coming on in leaps and bounds. Surely it is only a matter of time before they too begin to erode the market share of the incumbent proprietary enterprise-class software giant’s?

Certainly we at Biz4ge are firmly of the opinion that it is only a matter of time before open source software of all stripes becomes a well-established, head-on source of competition for the proprietary alternatives in organisations of all sizes……while also likely driving innovation and new business models for them all into the bargain!

Of course it does nothing to harm our prediction that at best, large organisations (with pots of cash at their disposal) in the developed world represent only about 10% or less of the total possible global market for software. This leaves 90% or more of the market (the ones without the pots of cash at their disposal) constantly on the lookout for cheaper equivalent alternatives to accomplish the same ends…..of course it is hard to forecast which way many of them might jump in future as the open source choices continue to improve…….NOT !

Best of all for us at Biz4ge we see open source software as a marvelous opportunity for organisations of all sizes to take operating models like our Biz4ge business architecture, which is free for non-commercial internal use (our own contribution to the open source movement, see the Legal page on our website for more details of rights & permissions), and underpin them with implementations of the appropriate software applications.

All this is can be for free if you have the where-with-all to tackle it by yourself! And even if you do not, so long as you can find an offering that meets your needs, the costs related to using open source often proves to be much less than its proprietary alternatives!!

We certainly all live in some interesting times. It feels as though there’s the makings of a small storm in the air or a bit of a revolution afoot. Watch this space…..we certainly are!

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