02 February 2007

Enterprise Open Source

I've been collecting an ever growing list of open source offerings that have applicability to enterprise IT. I am convinced that with the right guidance, most enterprise IT shops can do at least ~80% of their IT with these open source offerings. While many of these fall short when compared to their commercial counterparts in terms of features, they still offer a viable alternative for IT organizations with the requisite in-house skills (real programmers; real software engineers).

Let me define "the right guidance". That is someone or some team that can see the value of the Web 2.0 approach to software creation and utilization. A former colleague of mine used to say. "a fool with a tool is still a fool" - if you don't "get" the premise of Web 2.0, if you don't "think" in terms of Web 2.0 or "believe" that Web 2.0 works, then why would it work? The peer-to-peer approach offered a similar opportunity, unfortunately the underlying technology model of p2p was mistaken for the high-profile illegal use of the technology to steal copyrighted content. I worked in p2p for a few years, and was dismayed by the number of people in IT that said, "P2P, isn't that illegal?" What!? (This is similar to the arguments against private gun ownership, "criminals use guns to commit crime, then we must ban guns" Duh!? No incarcerate the criminal is the answer to the actual problem. Remember, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people"!!!)

The feature set is one area, perhaps the most convenient argument open source opponents use; its right up there with the legal / licensing / indemnification "concerns". There are open source integrators that will build, certify and often indemnify an open source suite. So what is the real issue?

The real issue is that it will destroy the kingdom of IT, large numbers of top-heavy management, architects and adiministration overhead (not sys admins, they provide actual value to an organization). If you can find, download, learn, extend and deploy open source solutions to service your customers, employees, partners, execs...why not do it? Using open source will allow organizations to downsize their IT especially in the "deadweight" category. All the money saved can be used to hire real software engineeers and real programmers (there is a difference, which I may blog about eventually).

In applying open source, Web 2.0 solutions in the enterprise (Enterprise 2.0) you will need a few knowledgable business analysts, a small number of tech savvy managers that still have to write or test software themselves, software engineers, real programmers and system adminstrators. Essentially, that's it! For senior management: a CTO and small staff of software engineers that can assess technologies and trends. There are many tools emerging that will enable the end users to have more control over the software systems they use to perform their jobs, they won't need IT to do "requirements analysis" and "BUFD" with heavyweight technologies. Notice there is no CIO position, they are extinct.

If you have a typical, traditional enterprise IT shop of say 100 staff total, I would be surprised to learn that more than 30 actually did anything to create real value (real value: investigate technology, assess needs, write code, test code, admin runitme environments), let's say its 50 or 60 out of that 100 total. Eliminate 40 non-value producing positions, maybe create 5-10 new value producing positions (CTO and advisory staff) and provide better end user experience, cheaper and faster?! What's that worth? You flatten the IT orgainzation with fewer layers of political indirection, make IT more agile and more supportive of your organization's business objectives.

One caveat, having real software engineers and real programmers you will need to have technically competent, motivated leadership (CTO and staff) to harness and focus the creative energy. Clearly defined business objectives, ample time for creative exploration (10-20%) and effective n-ary collaboration and communication is all that is required. (That and good, fast, machines from any manufacturer they want, with big/multiple monitors, a break room with tv, pool (swimming or table!), pingpong, foozball, air hockey, and good coffee, tea, softdrinks etc.) You'll still save money right off the bat, and on an ongoing basis.

There is a better way to do Enterprise IT, for those willing to "risk" it. You can start small and evolve, it doesn't have to be a violent overthrow though the start small team will have many enemies circling like vultures, so executive management (CEO and staff, minus the CIO) will need to protect this team. Those organizations that follow this path will win competitively. Google, MySpace, YouTube are but a few examples of how to do it the Web 2.0 way. What's stopping you?

No comments: