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Friday, December 15, 2006

Wanted: Open Source solution architects

There is a gaping hole in the open source commercialization eco-system. And, by “commercialization”, I don’t mean that in a negative “selling out” manner, but rather in leveraging the greatness of open source to solve real-world business problems. There are a large and growing number of technical experts driving the open source projects and the innovations therein. This started as a grass-roots movement, as many significant innovations and paradigm shifts do, and continues to cross from innovators and early adopters toward the mainstream. But, the open source “movement” still has its detractors.

Typical comments I hear all the time (from CxO’s):

“It’s geek stuff, not real code that is ready for the enterprise. I would never bet my business on it.”

“The code is developed by people all over the world who never see each other. And anyone with bad intentions has total visibility into the code. That doesn’t sound too safe to me.”

“Who owns any of this stuff, and where would I turn if I had any questions or problems?”

Of course, those comments come from people who are misinformed. However, since perception is “reality” in many spheres of life, the challenge is to overcome those false perceptions.

So, while the technical merits of many open source projects are driving acceptance amongst IT folks, what is also needed is a commensurate “communication” push at the executive level. In other words, drive the value articulation of open source both from the bottom-up and the top down. But, to do it “top down” requires a rare skill set. This is what I call the “open source solution architect”.

An open source solution architect not only understands the open source space inside and out, but also knows the particular business space. By business space, I mean a selected vertical industry such as telecommunications, hospitality, transportation, financial services, public sector, and so-on. So, this solution architect understands the business (the players, their challenges, their success criteria, etc.) and can speak at a CxO level. This person can go toe-to-toe with any CIO and articulate how open source can help them solve pressing business challenges and enable new business opportunities. Although growing in number, the people with these skills are still few and far between.

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