Is Industry Specific OSS the Next Big Thing?

It has been my belief that the next big thing for open source software (OSS) will be creating industry specific tools, frameworks and platforms. OSS is well established in the tools and middleware stacks but a lot of the benefits are also applicable to software higher up the stack.

Recently some other people have started talking about this, Bob Sutor made the point in his 2008 priorities, Alex Fletcher makes a strong point how OSS serve as organic collaboration networks, and new companies are being established to promote the concept of industry specific OSS. At Eclipse we also have a number of new projects that are industry specific, such as OHF, OSEE and a proposal for a Financial Market platform. There are also some successful open source projects like Sakai in education. However, I think we are just scratching the surface?

How can IT departments benefit from OSS?

OSS has demonstrated an effective process of allowing individuals and organizations to collaborate on software development, including competing interests. Linux, Apache and Eclipse are great examples of individuals and competing organization coming together to collaborate on the development of technology.

IT organizations are always looking for new ways to drive efficiencies and speed innovation in their organization. Henry Chesbrough has coined the term ‘Innovation Networks’ to discuss R&D departments that treat their R&D systems as an open system that include internal and external parties. It would seem to me that OSS provides a great model for creating software innovation networks for IT organizations.

What are the logical areas of collaboration?

Open source software implementing open standards is a well established. Apache implementing the Java JSRs and http; JBoss implementing EJB specs, Eclipse Modeling Project and the OMG, etc. Vertical industries also have their own industry specific standard, such as in Finance FpML, FIX Protocol, etc., in Healthcare HL7, or Automotive STAR standards. If an IT organization needs to implement a vertical standard, why not collaborate with others in the industry to implement it once. This would certainly drive cost efficiencies, quicker adoption and most likely better interoperability of the standard between the different consumers.

Creating a common software platform that supports an industry supply chain is another area that seems ripe for collaboration. A common industry software platform that allows many different players to participate and add value can be an engine for innovation in the entire industry sector. Eclipse is a great example in the software tools industry. I think there are other compelling examples in vertical industries.

Factors to consider when starting industry projects

Starting an open source project is non-trivial, especially if there are different organizations and even competing organizations involved. I actually think the Eclipse Foundation has established some best practices that can benefit any industry group that was interested in starting an project. Here are some factors that I think need to be considered to establish successful software innovation networks.

1. How will the IP be shared and managed amongst the participants? OS licenses and contribution agreements need to be put in place to ensure effective IP sharing.

2. What is the governance model that drives the policies and strategies of the group to ensure equal opportunity for collaboration?

3. There are many different styles of open source development. An open development process that stipulates transparency and openness to all potential participants is important.

4. Establishing and supporting the IT infrastructure, like the project web site, code repository, mailing list, etc.

5. How will promote and build the community? If the goal is to have many contributors and collaborators, then community building is an important factor to consider.

Will this ever work?

I must admit that I have been saying vertical frameworks are the next big thing for at least two years. Some progress is being made but we still have a long way to go. In my discussions, it seems the most IT organizations are rightly focused on their business requirements. However, a few are seeing the practices learned in open source could very well be applicable to their industry.

Most IT organizations have figured out how to be consumers of open source software. To drive the next level of efficiencies and innovation they will need to become active contributors to open source software. I believe this will happen, I think Eclipse is well suited to help make it happen and if it does it will be the next big thing in OSS.










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