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Applying the principles of ‘open source’ to business

Written by Brett Sidaway, April 19, 2011
 | Applying the principles of 'open source' to business

Applying the principles of ‘open source’ to business

Should all businesses become ‘open source’?

Lots of us have benefited from the practices that today are called ‘open source’. In fact anyone who drives a car – or is driven in a car – should read a little history on open-source to realise how they are just one of the beneficiaries of individuals and organisations sharing their knowledge and product development.

More specifically, the practice of open source and its products in software development has allowed web developers, marketeers, web and graphic designers, copywriters and SEO professionals to sell their services to an expanding market of businesses and not-for-profits. And in case the market for websites was dwindling and the unit price spiralling downwards, suddenly there is a whole raft of social media software and associated plug-ins that we advise companies of all sizes about – at the right price. I’m not just pointing the finger at the marketing or media sectors. Many businesses have benefited from open-source software from its dedicated but profitless developers, and are getting attractive websites with exceptional functions at a fraction of the cost they would pay for proprietorial licensed software. My concern is that while we have been willing to reap the benefits of ‘open source’ practices, it has had little impact on the way we do business at all. I’m not suggesting we all start giving away our products and services but I am saying we use the ‘open source’ model as a guide to developing new business practices.

Why do we need to change?

We face an environmental and economic background that I think makes the change essential. Old style competitive practices have resulted in wholesale environmental damage throughout the world. We can literally no longer afford the duplication of resources and waste that old-style capitalism bought. In an increasingly global market our business practices influence the whole world; co-operation needs to be as important as competition. Ironically – or perhaps it was always intended – open source software development has, I think, provided one of the main tools for developing an ‘open source’ business practice. Social media and networking can provide the methods for developing new ways of working – indeed they already are.

An ‘open source’ business model

I think these are some of the ways we can start to change and encourage our clients to do the same:

More collaboration

It’s not always necessary to compete for work – some projects cry out for a pooling of skills, experience and development. Social networking can start to build trusted networks between organisations traditionally seen as rivals and project management software enables completely transparent co-operation. Work with other competitors when ordering materials etc. – there will be cost benefits and less waste.

Learning to share

Open source developers are a great model for us to see how sharing can benefit everyone: new software, new ideas, new practices. We need to welcome input from others outside of our organisation but that involves sharing them at a much earlier stage. Peer review is an established scientific practice but considered economic suicide for businesses.

Real best practice

We like to think we share best practice but we often hedge by removing client details, costs and specific financial details that can make the practices meaningless. We need to learn that the more we reveal, the better for us all in the long run.

Greater transparency

Business often operates like a kid in an exam – we cover our work in case someone copies it. Let’s move towards greater transparency. Blogging, new media, webinars and webcasts will allow us to share our work on a daily – indeed hourly basis – creating a platform for a community of like-minded intelligent experts to contribute towards an improved outcome. This is a very brief sketch of some ideas and I welcome comment from those who already practice an ‘open source’ business model. Opace Technology Solutions are a Birmingham based Web Design and SEO company who have built their business model around the principles of ‘open source’ and provide a range of ‘open source’ technical services, including Joomla web design for powerful content managed websites and WordPress design for creative, informative blogs.

Image credit – Timothy Appnel

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