Open Source

Open-source software is about to eat your world

According to Matt Asay, to keep up with the accelerating pace of innovation, organizations need to get more involved in open-source communities and make software a core competency. Do you agree?

Open-source software

Perhaps the biggest reason for the steady rise of open-source software is the increased realization that every company is a software company. While businesses may make money as a retailer, bank, or utility, the reality is that software forms the foundation for the modern enterprise. One potent example of this shift is Vox, a new media company that depends as much on its technology platform as it does on its reporters to deliver content.

Blame the web

As The Economist recently highlighted, the pace of technology adoption keeps accelerating, with the web evolving, according to Pew Research, into "a global, immersive, invisible, ambient networked computing environment" by 2045 (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

Technology adoption over time.

With the web so intricately wound into the fabric of our daily lives, small wonder that any enterprise hoping to do business with today's consumers must also be tied into the web and the software that runs it or interacts with it.

There simply is no other way to do business today.

Vox technologia

Just ask Vox, the new media site founded by The Washington Post's Ezra Klein. When Vox launched this week, most of the media coverage had little to do with the news Vox would be covering, but had everything to do with with its content management system (CMS).

Yes, the CMS.

A CMS helps organizations organize and publish content to the web and print. Popular CMSes include Drupal, Alfresco, and Adobe CQ5. Normally, the CMS sits in the background, handling the dirt work of content publication. Not at Vox. At Vox, the CMS has taken center stage, because it enables a new breed of news distribution.

Nor is Vox alone, as The New York Times points out:

"Technology has become crucial to every newsroom, of course, but not all technology has been designed equally. News organizations born in the print era have generally knit together disparate systems over the years to produce websites that integrate graphics, social media and reader comments with various degrees of smoothness.

"Many all-digital organizations have built their content management systems from the ground up with the Internet in mind. That strategy, many say, produces a more organic melding of journalism and technology."

Technology, in other words, is the news. Or, at least, the enabler of the news.

Every business is a software business

This is why Forrester's George Colony can declare that "In the future, all companies will be software companies. The business of tires, insurance, or banking services will all have a customer software component." To achieve this, the traditional IT department must become far more agile, depending on a very different data infrastructure than yesterday's enterprise embraced.

There's no better way to do this than by participating in open-source communities.

We're seeing glimpses of this now in the DevOps movement as developers and the lines of business they serve turn to open source and the cloud to quickly build new applications, taking on the management burden themselves (usually). But for enterprises to truly tap into the power of software, we're going to have to see a far more thoughtful approach arise, as Colony further argues:

"[T]ech management must embrace two agendas: IT and BT. The CIO and team must continue to manage and improve IT (infrastructure) — the supply chains, financial systems, HR systems, and production systems that operate the corporation. But the team must also take on the business technology (BT) agenda — building technologies, systems, and process to win, retain, and serve customers."

This shift to being technology-driven will be easier for some. But hard or easy, it's required. Every company needs to make software a core competency.

There are signs that this is happening. According to Black Duck and North Bridge Venture Partners' most recent Future of Open Source survey, more than 50% of enterprises now use and contribute to open-source projects, a massive jump from just a few years ago. As for why they're participating, it's not only to lower costs but primarily to drive innovation by tapping into a steady stream of high-quality software.

This trend will continue. Software, after all, is eating the world, including your organization. Get used to it.

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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