The Finnish Centre for Open Source Solutions (COSS) last week held the 5th Openmind conference, bringing together academics, community members, open source professionals, representatives from European public administrations and venture capitalists.
Word of welcome from Timo Väliharju, Chairman of COSS, opened the first session, entitled “Open source – fully integrated with business?”, where I made the keynote address, as kindly asked me by Petri Räsänen. I started my speech mentioning the “open source conundrum.” Besides the dramatic difference between the number of today available open source projects and the tiny percentage of them that got an enterprise-level support, there are many other open source gaps demanding attention, though.
The classical “make vs buy” question faced by industries, within the open source world has to be integrated with the “borrow” and “share” options, where borrow is defined as using open source software and share is used to define collaborative approaches (either commensalistic or symbiotic ones.)
The growth of the open source self-suffiency phenomenon, as assessed by Gartner measurements, was later confirmed by the annual Finnish Software Industry Survey, presented by speakers from the Software Business Laboratory (TKK), the Software Product Development Research Group of the University of Turku, and Tampere University of Technology. Nina Helander and Mikko Rönkkö presented some earlier findings, reporting that 75% of respondents are using internally open source software. A pretty amazing result, likely due also to the wide diffusion of open source among Finnish schools and universities, as emerged during the round table.
Customers want benefits, they look for a solution to their problem. Vendors need to take care of the whole solution, that is not just a pile of open source packages, since the whole customer environment matters (ranging from hardware platforms and expertise within the IT department, soft-skill included).
Vendors want to sell, and to do that they need to build a sustainable ecosystem. Enabling third parties to easily write add-ons, maybe providing them with ad-hoc development tools, or launching specific certification programs, train-the-trainer included.
I eventually answered some questions from the audience, giving my explanation of why North-American open source vendors do not sell much over Europe. American CIOs are different from European ones, here System Integrators sell whole (open source) solutions to their customers, and they often do that taking the rist (and not giving back to the original authors). Viable and sustainable channel partner programs are needed, and probably most of the value has to address system integrators’ needs.