Business development: surveys and considerations

Few months ago I took part in a survey on FLOSS firms conducted by CALIBRE researchers.

CALIBRE researchers have derived a set of expectations for what they call open-sourcing,

whereby companies seek to grow a community of open source developers around what has typically (but not always) been a proprietary product previously

and have asked feedbacks to SMBs belonging to associations, consortia and other organizations bringing firms under a common umbrella.

As participant I received summary results , and I made some considerations based on my personal experience as founder of the first Italian Consortium of FLOSS firms.

Network Membership.
I found interesting opinions expressed about the following statements:

  • Candidate companies must have skills/expertise that are beneficial to the existing members
  • To become members of the network, candidate companies must be known to, or have a prior relationship with, existing members.

To be in the know and having skills and expertise beneficial to existing members were not considered mandatory to get in the network by a large percentage. In my personal experience be known was a highly desirable characteristic: it took me months gathering firms to start up the consortium just because we all pretend to choose each other.

Member reputation.
About the following statements:

  • Our company considers the competence and skills of other member companies before doing business with them
  • It is important that our company is seen by other members as being professionally competent
  • It is important that our company fulfills our obligations to other members to maintain our reputation in the network.

More than 90% of firms said competence is a critical success factor, either to choose partners or to be seen as competent and trustable. I understand and share these results, and I had only positive cooperation experiences within the network.

Shared Beliefs and Values.
People were asked to comment the following statements about what network members share:

  • a common software development philosophy
  • accepted ways of doing business
  • a sense of common destiny

Firms interviewed didn’t find a common ground on those topics. Despite OS firms base their business on commons-based peer-production, there was no high demand for sharing a common software development philosophy.
The way others do business wasn’t an issue either. It makes perfect sense to me, since we’re speaking about loosely coupled organizations don’t set strict constraints.
For just the same reason members don’t feel they’re sharing a sense of common destiny.

Integrating Members’ activities.
About the following statements:

  • Information on the skills and abilities of other network members is readily available;
  • The network has transparent routines for coordinating work between member companies;
  • The network enables seamless hand-off of tasks between partners.

To my big surprise less than half participants to the survey reported availability of members’ skills, since it was one of our first goal when we set up the consortium.

Almost 40% percent of interviewed firms said the network has transparent routines for coordinating work, and a quarter of them declared that the network enables seamless hand-off.
I’m honestly amazed by these answers, in my experience coordinating activities among members was quite heavy, and troublesome when the goal was internally funded. I’m afraid loosely coupled organizations can’t pretend to set high standards when it comes to inter-firms cooperation, I would be interested to know how others coped with this issue.

Network effectiveness.
People about the business side commented the following statements:

  • Our company has benefited from the skills/expertise of other member companies
  • Our company has benefited through the sharing of customer contacts with other network members
  • The network has enabled our company to compete for contracts that we couldn’t compete for on our own.

Almost 60% of interviewed members said they took advantage of others skills/expertise, a percentage higher than that one about availability of members’ skills, an apparent contradiction.
Only 30% of members declared to have benefit through the sharing of customers, but more than 40% said they could compete for contracts being part of the network.

Nothing really new under the sun, but I believe networks of FLOSS firms will have a greater impact on commercial open source, and I’m looking forward to read and comment CALIBRE findings, as soon as available.