Monday, September 24, 2012

Open by Default ... No Thanks

Despite being involved in the open source community for over a decade, I am not a fan of open by default. My preferred route for deciding whether to deploy an open technology approach as in open sourcing a project or providing it as open hardware or open data or via an open API is :-
  1. Map out the value chain of a revenue stream within the organization. The value chain should contain all the systems (activities, practice and data) needed to create the high level product or service.
  2. Apply evolution to the value chain. For example, determine whether the activities are in a state of genesis or more commodity. Care should be taken to ask whether it is widespread and well defined in the industry and not how any specific company considers this activity (as the company maybe suffering from inertia to change). Where a difference exists this should be marked and an inertia barrier added. 
  3. Apply forcing functions to the map for where open technology already exists and is driving a system to a more evolved state. 
  4. Mark barriers of entry (whether regulatory or requiring high amounts of financial, physical or human capital) and impacts on supplier and buyer strengths.
  5. Determine your intent (from efficiency to standards game to recruitment) and use this map to determine whether to open something or not.
Wow, this sounds like a lot of work just to answer a simple question of whether to open something or not? Actually, it isn't. Mapping out the value chain of an organisation should take a few hours at most.

The point of the map is it gives you some situational awareness. It can be used to anticipate changes and competitors action. It also forces you to think about what you're trying to achieve with an open technology approach like open source, how you want to manipulate the market, what opportunity exists, what strategy are you following?

What I don't like about "Open by Default" is it often rapidly becomes "Open without Thinking" and alas this degenerates into "Open without Value" i.e. it's the act of thinking about how to manipulate a market which is more likely to mean a business will value it and put resources, effort and focus into an open technology effort.

If it turns out that you can't perceive any value whatsoever in the project then by all means throw it out there with the hundreds of thousands of other open "meh" projects. Someone might find it useful, it might have some form of beneficial effect you hadn't realised or it might help you hire that skilled engineer / data scientist. But at least, you've thought about it.

Thinking about something generally translates into "we value this". Open technology approaches are powerful tactical weapons in the competition between companies and are far too valuable to be simply ignored or launched without thinking.