|category:||Economics of Software|
Is Now the Time?
First, and foremost, Open Source solutions are growing rapidly.
Let’s pick a random periodical sitting in my recycling: Information Week. There are 1579 items in InformationWeek [link ] for ‘open source’. SOA, in contrast, was 142 items. There are 2413 items for Oracle. So, I’d say that it’s 65% as important as Oracle and 11× more important than SOA. There are 7497 items for Micro$oft; it’s 21% as important. 5121 for IBM; 30% as important as IBM.
Of course, open source – as a concept – generates no revenue for this random periodical. Open Source is fighting for editorial space against paying customers like Oracle, IBM and Micro$oft. So, 1579 items without revenue dollars appears to be very significant.
Let’s look at the top 10 languages in the TPCI [link ]. Positions 1, 4, 6, 8 and 9 – 42% of the ratings – are open-source languages. That carries some weight with me, being in the staffing business. 42% of my business will be in open source languages and technologies.
Bottom line on point #1, “is now the time...”, is a resounding yes , now is the time.
How Far Ahead Of Your Customers Do You Want To Be?
This quote has me puzzled: “you don’t want to get too far ahead of your customers”. It’s an interesting point of view.
Why would we want to lag behind our customers? The reason must be because we don’t want to introduce anything new to them. I shouldn’t offer anything of higher value or lower risk because – well – it doesn’t say. It only suggests that I not offer anything novel.
Let’s look at some examples where the customers take the lead in technical innovation. The only examples would be where customers (1) create something, and then (2) demand support for the product that they created. Let’s see... what do people build? It has to be something ultra-low-tech, or people wouldn’t build it on their own.
The one example that I can locate for something where the customer leads innovation is lawn care. People create gardens and lawns and outsource the management. This would be LCO - Lawn Care Outsourcing. Lawns are ultra-low-tech: dirt and plants.
In the case of lawns, we don’t want to get out in front of our customers with anything too novel. A new kind of lawn mower, a new fertilizer, a more robust grass seed would be something that wouldn’t sell. Why should a lawn service offer to install a MowBot ` <http://www.21stcentury.co.uk/special_promotions/mowbot.asp>`__ or RoboMow ?
The comment suggests that I wouldn’t want to even make that kind of offer.
How is Corporate IT like lawn care?
Actually, there are a number of interesting parallels between Corporate IT and a Lawn Care Service.
IT is all about maintenance, support, up-time, and response to problems. The lawn is green, very stable, always available (weather-permitting), and someone has to fix the gopher holes.
Who designs our lawns and gardens? Professional landscape architects? That’s as crazy as having a software architect design our application software. Our maintenance programmers are perfectly capable of building new software from scratch.
Can we leverage are lawns as for-profit parts of our home/business? Wait! That’s where the parallel falls down. Indeed, that’s the problem I have with the whole ”...you don’t want to get too far ahead of your customers” point.
If we aren’t offering novel, high-value, low-risk solutions to our IT customers, what are we saying? We’re saying that IT isn’t about value , it’s about status quo . Keeping the status quo isn’t a marketplace opportunity. It’s a defensive position in response to some kind of threat.
What Can You Sell?
One reason for a defensive position is fear of failure. An additional comment [link ] suggest that I shouldn’t whine because my low-end customers can’t afford a RoboMow. It appears to mean that I should not expect to sell high-end products to low-end customers.
The comment means that a rejection is such a devastating blow that I shouldn’t even make an offer. I should lag my customers because they might reject my high-tech, leading-edge, open-source alternative.
At first this appears to be an irrelevant tangent. I wasn’t talking about selling, I was talking about technology leadership. I was talking about who creates technology demand. I was trying to state that IT consultants – as vendors – create demand for open source solution, not IT customers. It’s the vendor’s offer, not the customer’s request that creates innovation, and leads to adoption of open source technology.
While the comment says to stop whining about failing to sell, it raises the question of “what will you actually sell?” The answer is that I won’t sell anything if I don’t make an offer.
I have two choices: wait for customer demand or make an offer. If I don’t make a new technology offer, I’ll never grow beyond low-bidding for lawn care services. If I do make an offer of new technology, I may have materially changed the game for the customers who are ready.
Why would I not make the offer of new technology?
So What’s the Threat?
There’s another threat causes someone to say “you don’t want to get too far ahead of your customers” The threat of new technology itself. If we’re threatened by new technology, then we don’t want to introduce it. We want to wait for our customers to demand it.
What is threatening about the technology? The price of entry? The novelty? The number of choices made available? The instability of a growing market? The expanding skill set required to service the new open-source technologies? The lack of a clear single-vendor hegemony?
Actually, I think all of these things are terrifying for some people. I think that IT positions against open source stem from simple fear of the unknown that is at the heart of adopting new technology.
An Open Source product will, inevitably, spawn large for-profit businesses. Apache, Linux, MySQL, PHP, Python and Perl are all supported by for-profit businesses of various sizes. The Iron Python project, for example, folds Python into Micro$oft’s family of products. Does this reduce the fear of the unknown? Possibly.
It doesn’t seem to make business sense to wait around for all fear-inducing unknowns to be resolved. Who wants to fight for table scraps in a declining market?