Win-Win Works

In BusinessWeek today, Stuart Cohen exactly describes the open-source business value most critical to the inner-source model:

Companies today are coming together to form "communities" of subject matter professionals—executives, business managers, doctors, or researchers—to define software that can be produced at much lower cost. The cliché that everyone wins may be corny, but it’s true here.

It’s a bit unfortunate that he went for shock value in the title ("Open
Source: The Model Is Broken"), which requires him to spend almost half
the article setting up a false, straw-man view of "the" open source
business model (based solely on support revenue), so he can knock it down. As Matt Asay points out, "[a]ll successful open-source companies have always had some value-add beyond the base code itself. But no matter for our purposes: collaboration is the key, as he eventually argues, whether within a single organization ("inner" sourcing), with partners, or in industry consortia. Collaboration turns out to be a powerful method for producing more, better software—and standards, designs, and documentation as well, all the work products of the information age.

In some ways, the inner-sourcerer has an advantage over the consortium or community worker. To begin with (and the inevitable internecine frictions notwithstanding), it’s a bit easier to agree on common fundamentals within a single organization, than among companies competing head to head. Whether it’s in negotiation the basic requirements, or communicating possibly sensitive business plans, or occasionally lending resources among participating teams, the commonality of a single corporate organization can help to lower barriers. Similarly, success by one team can be viewed as success of the organization as a whole, without any overtones of lost competitive advantage. Methods can be adopted without the taint of "playing catch-up."

Open- and inner-sourcing, today, is about communities with something to gain—communities of companies, of departments, of internal projects; communities in specialized disciplines, in vertical markets, and in the hurley-burley of internal and corporate-IT tooling. They succeed by building a community of participation that mirrors and supports the existing community of needs.

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2 comments on “Win-Win Works
  1. Guy Martin says:

    Jack,
    Not surprisingly, I agree 100% (which I guess is good, considering I work here at CollabNet! :)). When I spoke recently at the eBig Panel discussion in Pleasanton, CA, I reiterated the point that I think sometimes gets lost when people talk about ‘Open Source’ – it isn’t JUST about the code! Open Source encompasses both the code, *AND* the methodologies used to produce that code. Collaborative communities are a huge part of that equation.
    While I agree in general that sometimes companies can have it easier in terms of facilitating collaboration, I think that older, more established companies/groups sometimes have a hard time getting past the ‘warring tribes’ mentality when it comes to ‘inner-sourcing’. I have some thoughts on this (which may show up in a future blog post here), but I’m curious how you would address these as well.

  2. Of course some companies are less open to collaboration, even internal collaboration, than others. Reasons range from simple unfamiliarity to very solid considerations that even you or I would agree with; each company has to sort that out for themselves.
    My primary message into these situations is to highlight the value that comes from the “stone soup” magic of collaboration, an inducement to offset concerns and discomfort.
    But the other half of the equation also matters, and it’s there that a planned, coordinated, integrated suite of tools like CollabNet’s flagship products really shines. Through centralized, auditable security, extensible and customizable to individual corporate needs, you can achieve a substantial degree of security and control. Companies with compelling need to compartmentalize their knowledge can still do so. Uncompartmentalized work can still get the full inner-source benefits, while even the compartmentalized work can benefit from collaboratively developed infrastructure, and perhaps even just a bit from collaboration within the compartment.
    During the hey-day of commercial UNIX and standards-based collaboration, I once heard Dr. Adele Goldberg remark that “standards are the things we agree to so we can get on with the interesting work.” Even highly compartmentalized enterprises may be able to identify “stuff to collaborate on,” so their compartments can get on with the interesting work. After all, the most prominent pure open-source projects are generally infrastructure, too: Apache HTTPD, JBoss, MySQL, Linux … when you use these to build and run your own products, you benefit from the power of collaboration without exposing or compromising the value you build on top. It’s worthwhile for even the most compartmentalized enterprise to seek out non-sensitive infrastructure that can benefit from the collaboration juju.

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