Why You Should Care About the Open Solutions Alliance

Just came across the Open Solutions Alliance (OSA), “a nonprofit, vendor-neutral consortium dedicated to driving adoption of comprehensive open source business solutions” and am so pleased to see SpikeSource and CollabNet — along with Sourceforge and others — playing such an integral role.

Why should you care?

There are over 140,000 open source projects listed on Sourceforge. Some are incredibly active…others less so…but there is such a wealth of useful software available that it’s creating a baseline of information technology products that the world is leveraging. The result is that all of us can then strive for ever higher possibilities in efficiency, creativity and innovation driven by technology and the Internet as a platform for the future.

I’ve personally installed and learned (albeit from a high level) a couple of dozen of the most popular projects in content management, blogging, ecommerce, forums, courseware and groupware as well as other categories. Here’s the kicker: it’s VERY difficult to coordinate and orchestrate (as an administrator) a deployment of these packages since every administration model and user interface is different…and forget about it if you’re just a power user trying to deploy something for your non-profit or small-to-medium sized organization. You wanna make ’em present on a Web site like they’re an integrated whole? Whaddya nuts! Better hire a bunch of really smart developers and keep your fingers crossed that you’ll be able to upgrade any of these software offerings individually without breaking integrations and thus your Web asset/site/application.

Want to present them to your customers, prospects or constituents as a whole offering that looks-n-feels like one, holistic Web asset/site/application? Again, good luck and happy budgeting. Want to teach and train others on how to deploy and use all of them? Time and money is all you need and alot of hair ’cause you’ll be pulling most of it out of your head.

Why else should you care?

Thinking strategically about the current state of open source software — and why the OSA holds the promise of a new era of coordination and orchestration — brings clarity to some other problems. These are ones that you’d better care about as well if you want your business or organization to be relevant for more than just the next 2-3 years:

1) Mobile delivery will be the #1 presentation layer issue every organization will face strategically for the next several years. Now that you’ve got your new Web asset/site/application up-n-running, everyone trained and it’s being presented publically so that it looks like one seamless offering, how will you deal with public demands to access it with mobile devices?  Another huge problem to solve and you’re not going to do it without time, budget and more of that hair you already pulled out. This alone will make the OSA attempts at crafting a vision that the open source ecosystem can shoot for worthwhile

2) Rich, Internet application (RIA) delivery means that Web assets/sites/applications will need to have consumable aspects (e.g., RSS, API’s) in order to have desktop-centric access to pieces-n-parts of what is offered online. The enabling tools to build these are going to explode the category just like Desktop Publishing completely changed the prepress and printing industry and again, the OSA could help ensure that architectures and presentation layers deliver on the RIA requirements

3) Widgetization of the Web. Just like RIA’s, increasingly there will be demand by others to snag data or application functionality from other Web assets/sites/applications through widgets or people will want to build their own and access what you deliver

4) Others. Interoperability between open source offerings and the “stack” of infrastructure that many packages leverage (Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL);  business-to-business functionality, and other services — that typically one vendor or vendor consortium controls or attempts to — is a big part of the OSA mission that will ensure that basic stuff is handled, managed and delivered so the open source developer ecosystem can concentrate on higher level services.

The administration layer and presentation layer are my personal big hot buttons and the hardest part of the OSA mission (and, in my view, the biggest opportunity). Think about what Apple has done with Mac OS X — a series of layered functionality over unix so that even my wife and kids are using unix for God’s sake! — it appears that this direction is front-n-center to the mission of the OSA and, as a consequence, much more likely to happen at a macro level. From the white paper:

“A single business application built from disparate applications needs to integrate the presentation layer of each component application into a seamless experience for end users. In each case, end users should be able to interact within one window…”

“The user interface is critical to presenting a seamless integration. The end user rapidly becomes disorientated and frustrated when the various screens or tabs in an application have a distinct look. To minimize this the look and feel of solution components needs to be customizable, while allowing vendors to preserve their branding.”

Coordination and orchestration is the only way that the open source movement will extend its reach into the mainstream. Today there are too many approaches; too many disparate models; a wide variety of platform and extensibility directions; thus making it EXTREMELY difficult for a business or organizational leader to choose where to bet their information technology future.

With my current client involvement I’ve struggled right alongside them to find a way to ensure they don’t paint themselves into a corner and to be in a position to manage spiking or scaling demands on their systems and infrastructure. I’m also in the early stages with my own strategic planning on ways to enter the learning/education/training/ space with some open source-centric offerings, so the OSA is absolutely delightful to see happen with industry and thought leadership.

I’m going to be paying alot of attention as this unfolds and you should too.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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