Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Power of Open Source!

Open source is a broad terminology. Its use is not just limited to software. It simply means that the end product, be it software or an automobile or just a soft drink, the practices in production and development are accessible free of cost to the public. However in the context of this article, I would be focusing primarily on the software and technology sector.

Open source software has its source code freely available to the public, to use, modify and redistribute it without paying a royalty to the original developer. So developers in diverse industry segments, be it logistics or manufacturing or healthcare, can use the source code as a platform to develop applications suiting to their specific needs.

A bit of 'tweaking' of the code would lead to a modified product, in some cases even with completely new functionalities. So, I feel this is a great initiative to promote innovation among developers instead of solely relying on third party vendors or packaged software applications to meet your software needs.

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a community of developers, intended to create a platform for idea sharing, creating awareness, and educating people. The community can evolve and grow only through generous contribution from community partners and large companies who frequently offer their support to them.

Most people believe that Open source, on-premise makes more sense than SaaS (Software as a Service) as the same flexibility in terms of code modification is not available and companies would not have full access to the hosted code. Most of the IT experts and professionals love the Linux Operating System and the Linux Community.

This could be because of the fact that Linux has thousands of open source programs of high quality, which are freely available for use and testing. In fact in a recent discussion with an IT professional in the IT services industry, he stated that Linux is indeed addictive due to the flexibility it provides and the amount of research that could be done. It is just great for a developer to experiment with new code and applications with Linux.

Some of the most popular Open Source products are Linux (Operating System), Symbian (Mobile Operating System), Apache (HTTP Web Server), Eclipse (Integrated development environment) and Mozilla (Web Browser).

Open Source projects and start-ups are often funded heavily by Venture capitalists. Venture capital funding for such projects grew almost by 40 percent reaching $89 million dollars in the first quarter of 2010. Popular companies like SugarCRM and MySQL have been backed up by large Venture capital funding.

Apart from Venture capitalists, the Open Source community receives a lot of funding from large companies like IBM and RedHat. IBM supports the Eclipse project. RedHat supports Linux applications. SourceForge supports and hosts thousands of such projects. Some of these companies may also receive public funding from the Government.

However I sometimes wonder if the Open Source Community can be a legitimate threat to vendors of proprietary software. There is still very less actual adoption of Open Source applications. Most vendors cite a high total cost of ownership (TCO) for these applications.

These costs could include the costs of consultants, audits, training, internal development and the overall effort associated with a move towards open standards. There are various steps for a company to consider a strategic move towards adopting this technology. Details of licenses, identifying value, understanding the maturity of the software, identifying channels to procure and risk evaluation needs to be done before a company takes a decision to adopt these softwares.

According to a recent research conducted by Gartner, only one in every five organizations was adopting open source consistently in all departments of the company. So a large part of the business community is in the process of evaluating or finding value in these products for their businesses.

Traditional software vendors such as Microsoft and SAP have taken steps in order to respond to open source adoption. SAP has taken active participation in the Eclipse Foundation. Recently migrating from Strategic Consumer to Strategic Developer, SAP supports the Eclipse Foundation by providing full time resources and developers for various projects. This is a strategic move to strengthen its ecosystem and provide seamless integration of open source software with SAP applications.

Even Microsoft, which everyone would seem is against open source technology, actually has a strategy in place to work with it. In fact, Microsoft's strategy is simply to let these applications run on top of Windows. This would enable these applications to be a part of the Windows ecosystem, with an aim of making Linux obsolete.

On the other hand, Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems was a big move in the open source community. Some of the popular applications like MySQL, OpenOffice and OpenSolaris are now a part of the Oracle Open Source umbrella. Oracle recently announced its strategies of managing MySQL and OpenOffice, wherein both entities would continue to receive investment from Oracle.

I think Open Source has contributed a great deal to the software ecosystem and is definitely here to stay. How would the proprietary software vendors and customers adapt and evolve with it is something which would be interesting to see in the near future.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Social Media can be used for Tangible Business Results and Insight on some Great Success Stories



I often think why is the need for proliferation of social media into every industry. Aren't conventional marketing techniques doing the job pretty well. I mean the company would still be achieving the regular sales numbers and doing good business even in absence of some of the internet marketing techniques.

However social media techniques if used correctly and done in the right way, produce tangible business results. And if used in the right way, can add those extra bucks to the bottom line as well. Twitter and Facebook are the two most popular social media platforms today, followed by Orkut, Myspace, Linkedin and some other social media sites.

I was reading an article on the companies that use social media the best. The company that topped the list was Coca-Cola and I wasnt surprised. It executed one of the largest social media campaigns on Facebook called Expedition 206. Now this is a bit similar to the MTV Roadies concept. In Expedition 206, three Coca Cola Brand Ambassadors would be chosen by the fans to make a year long trip visiting all the 206 countries where the brand is sold.

Such a fresh concept, and executed brilliantly on facebook where photos, vidoes, messages of fans would be posted. This would create more die hard loyalists for Coke, would act as a brand energizer. People would relate to their favourite brand and interact with loyalists on facebook, posting comments, and pictures which is great for evangelizing the brand, reiterating the fact that no matter where you go Coke is truly a global brand.

Another example of a company using social media in a great way is my own favourite brand Dell. Dell claims adding $3 million in sales using the Twitter platform. Dell Outlet on twitter is a page than has more than 1,500,000 followers. It announces great discount offers on this page and the link is redirected to the actual page where a customer can make a purchase. This is a great example of quantifiable ROI of social media.

Dell interacts with its followers on Twitter and Facebook to gain feedback about its new product launches, resolve any service issues and respond to any other queries of fans and customers on their forum. So in a way your market research is done for you online, and even better you get to gain valuable insight and be in direct touch with your brand loyalists and fans.

These were a couple of examples of companies leveraging social media and using it as a serious marketing tool. I strongly feel that irrespetive of the size, companies must look at social media marketing. If you ask me why, its simply the way of the future. I remember Marc Benioffs quote that he had wondered why isnt all enterprise software like Amazon.com, when he started Salesforce.com. Now he wonders why isnt all enterprise software like Facebook.

On that note, even SAP Labs benefits hugely by social media and is one of the few companies making the best use of social media. Earlier Netweaver was a platform to network and resolve business issues all across the globe. Now global users and employees can stay connected by social media and participate in discussions about usage issues or patch fixing or any other adoption issue. Hence increasing the "support" efficiency of SAP and it can reply to its user base and cutomers via social media with ease. This would eventually increase brand adoption and more users for SAP.

For smaller companies, it is cost effective and an easy way to reach out to its audience. Even if the company has a niche customer base, this is a great way to share ideas, discuss with your customers and gain new insights. Keeping the customers updated with latest product developments and news and interacting with them on a regular basis, would increase loyalty, brand recall and eventually the reach of the product or brand. To close I would recommend a focussed social media strategy for all companies, as it is an easy, cost effective and new way to reach out to your customers, and in my view is the way of the future.