Open Source in the enterprise
By Allen Brown, President & CEO, The Open Group
Allen Brown has over 30 years of general management, operations and finance experience. He is currently the President and CEO of The Open Group, a technology-neutral and vendor-neutral consortium that drives vision of Boundaryless Information Flow™ – the smooth information flow within and between enterprises - based on open standards through global interoperability.
Mr. Brown has been with The Open Group since 1993, when he joined the then X/Open Company Limited with the dual responsibility of Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Business Development. In this position he played a significant role in the development of the certification of conformance to the Single UNIX Specification and the licensing of the UNIX® trade mark. In 1994 he assumed the role of Chief Operating Officer and was actively involved in the merger of X/Open Company Limited with the Open Software Foundation. After the merger, as part of the integration activities, he was appointed Senior Vice President. In 1998 he was named Acting President and CEO, and later in the same year he was confirmed in his current position of the President and CEO of The Open Group.
Prior to joining The Open Group, Mr. Brown managed a consulting firm in London, which he founded in 1987. He enjoyed a mix of financial management and general management assignments, which included advising venture capitalists on investment decisions, and consulting on IT systems design and implementation. His clients included a broad range of companies and organizations in start-up, turn-around and growth situations, in a variety of industries including manufacturing, and distribution and retail.
In 1984 Mr. Brown co-founded Cambridge Venture Management Ltd, a consulting firm specializing in the provision of experienced management to small and developing companies on a part-time basis, based in Cambridge, England. During this time he led a number of general management and financial management assignments. From 1972 to 1984 Mr. Brown worked in various financial and management accounting positions for Unilever plc and Unilever Computer Services Ltd.
Mr. Brown holds an MBA from London Business School. He is married and resides in San Francisco, California and Colchester, England.
A growing number of today’s enterprises in a variety of industries ranging from cutting edge telecommunications corporations to multinational consumer good manufacturers see Open Source as a viable route to improving interoperability and affordability of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems and applications. Chief Information Officers in both public and private sectors are working with The Open Group to examine earnestly the costs, benefits and success factors for implementing Open Source products. They are looking at the relative value of Open Source, their capacity for implementing and maintaining Open Source software, and the enterprise-wide policies that must be in place. Answers are coming from collaborative efforts of buyers, customers, the Open Source community and academia – all utilizing The Open Group’s support structure for conferences, specification development, certification, and much more.
Putting Open Source in the context of CIOs’ challenges
The Open Group’s Customer Council, which reflects the thinking of technology buyers and users, took that information and set about describing the CIOs’ primary challenges as well as the mechanism for addressing them. The result is a Business Scenario called The Interoperable Enterprise. (A Business Scenario is the methodology The Open Group uses to describe a problem in a business context; all are available on the web free of charge.) The Interoperable Enterprise depicts the pain that large customers have with delivering integrated information. That ability to deliver integrated information is a concept that the members of The Open Group term Boundaryless Information FlowTM.
Consider what led up to this requirement. In the past, enterprises were established in an end-to-end process. They bought raw materials, and made them into something they sold. For many years, companies organized themselves into departments and divisions to support that process. It was a structure that bred experts. An inquiry would come into customer service, and would be passed to a department that bought parts; manufacturing then produced a product. Experts knew every stage of the process but they had no real need to communicate with people outside their area.
There were two great benefits to doing it this way. They could do things faster because they did things repetitively. And they could ensure quality because they mastered best practices for their particular area.
A primary consequence was an organization of stovepipes, or silos. Over the last ten years or so, most senior executives have been trying to break down those silos. The person who most aggressively pushed this home was Jack Welch at GE.
Welch decided to eliminate the horizontal, vertical, and geographic boundaries that acted against effectiveness in the organization. His aim was to break down the silos and get people to work together in cross-functional teams to solve problems as quickly and effectively as possible. He called the result the Boundaryless Organization.
Now here’s the challenge for the CIOs: In today’s boundaryless world their business customers need access to information that was not necessarily designed to leave its original domain, be integrated with information from other sources, and be made available when and where needed. Unfortunately, most of the IT systems in use today were built without specific interoperability requirements. They reflect decades of investment, and cannot be replaced overnight to reflect a new business model. But since they cannot easily meet the current integrated information needs of their companies’ fluid cross-functional teams, the CIOs come under a lot of pressure. The situation becomes even more complex when business partners enter the picture. Add to that the fact that all these large enterprises are global, and the problem seems monstrous.
So just as Jack Welch conceived of the Boundaryless Organization, The Open Group’s members envisioned the concept of Boundaryless Information Flow – getting information to flow seamlessly and securely within the organization, across different departments, geographies and time zones, and ensuring it is instantly available to business managers and other stakeholders wherever and whenever they need it. Boundaryless should not be perceived as having no boundaries, it means having appropriate boundaries: eliminating boundaries that disable business operations, and ensuring the presence of permeable boundaries that enable business.
Boundaryless Information Flow can only be achieved through enabling global interoperability. Achieving it is a continuous process involving many tools – architecture, standards, certification, best practices, among others. At The Open Group, we have found that one important tool, which often complements the others, is Open Source.
Open Source: a tool of boundaryless information flow
The Open Group has made a commitment to sponsoring Open Source projects so that enterprises can exploit advantages of the Open Source process with minimum disruption and risk. Many members have used Open Source to develop, test, and improve products and services that support Boundaryless Information Flow.
In the area of applications, members have developed OpenPegasus, an Open-Source implementation of the Distributed Management Task Force’s (DMTF) Web-Based Enterprise Management/Common Interface Model (WBEM/CIM) specification. WBEM provides an information model (CIM) and interoperability specifications that allow communication of management information between managed and managing components. The set of standards provides much of what is needed to create a common manageability infrastructure.
Over the years, disparate information management systems that do not interoperate have posed a persistent problem for many companies. The Open Group’s members decided to address the issue and tried various approaches to solving that. We have had many groups of vendors propose how to get products to interoperate, but the plan always involved one particular vendor’s solution. Finally, with OpenPegasus, vendors came together and agreed upon an Open Source implementation that would support a translation layer, that is, a layer supporting communication from different management systems. So what Open Source achieved is overcoming an intransigent problem that a written specification alone could not achieve.
To maximize the value of Open Source, it needs to conform to standards – only when compatibility and interoperability of Open Source products is guaranteed, can buyers reap the full benefits. As certification and testing both belong to The Open Group’s core competencies, we take a very active role. For example, The Open Group recently made the Basic Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) Interoperability Test Suite (BLITS) freely available to the public for open source development. BLITS contains specifications of tests that demonstrate interoperability between LDAP client/server pairs.
Another certification project directly supports the adoption of Open Source solutions in the enterprise. Working with the Free Standards Group, The Open Group’s certification team developed and now manages an innovative, web-based program for Linux Standard Base (LSB) certification. Linux is the Open Source operating system that runs on a number of hardware platforms, and the LSB is a set of standards designed to increase compatibility among Linux distributions so applications can run on any compliant system. Both the Free Standards Group and The Open Group believe that LSB certification will advance the presence of Linux in the marketplace; signs of that are already evident in this program, which is less than a year old. The Open Group has made significant contributions to the test program for LSB certification, providing approximately 97 percent of the tests for the runtime environments. And consistent with the goals of the project, these contributions have been made under an Open Source license.
Another key project involves the documentation of best practices. The Manager’s Guide to Open Source that is currently under development will be, as the title indicates, for managers. Like our other freely available Manager’s Guides, it will not be highly technical – it will address a spectrum of issues to guide the non-specialist in making intelligent business decisions.
Finally, The Open Group is sponsoring a series of short Open Source conferences to help CIOs study the success factors noted above. They gather with technical, legal, business and ethical experts to assess the value of Open Source in their businesses, their capacity for implementing and maintaining Open Source solutions, and the nature of enterprise-wide policies. They leave with the ability to evaluate more confidently how Open Source might have a place in their operations. (See http://www.opengroup.org/ose/)
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