Archive for April 26th, 2010

On open source competence centers

Just a few days ago, Glynn Moody posted a tweet with the message: “Italy to begin an open source competence centre”; a result of the recent EU project Qualipso, created with the purpose to identify barriers to OSS adoption, quality metrics and with the explicit target of creating a network of OSS competence centers, sharing the results of the research effort and disseminating it with the European community of companies and public administration. For this reason, the project created more than one competence center, and created a network (that you can find under this website) to cover not only Europe, but China, India and Japan as well. This is absolutely a great effort, and I am grateful to the Commission and the project participants for their work (hey, they even cited my work on business models!)

There is, however, an underlying attitude that I found puzzling – and partially troubling as well. The announcement mentioned the competence center of Italy, and was worded as there was no previous such effort in that country. If you go to the network website, you will find no mention of any other competence center there, even when you consider that the Commission already has a list of such centers (not much updated, though) and that on OSOR there is even an official group devoted to Italian OSS competence centers, among them two in Friuli (disclaimer: I am part of the technical board of CROSS, and work in the other), Tuscany, Trentino, Umbria, Emilia (as part of the PITER project), a national one and many others that I probably forgot. Then we have Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Nordic Countries and many others. What is incredible is that most of these centers… actually don’t link one with the other, and they hardly share information. The new Qualipso network of competence centers does not list any previous center, nor does it point to already prepared documentation – even by the Commission. The competence center network website does not link to OSOR as well, nor does it links to other projects – past or current.

I still believe that competence centers are important, and that they must focus on what can be done to simplify adoption – or to turn adoption into a commercially sustainable ecosystem, for example by facilitating the embracing of OSS packages by local software companies. In the past I tried to summarize this in the following set of potential activities:

  • Creating software catalogs, using an integrated evaluation model (QSOS, Qualipso, FLOSSMETRICS-anything, as long as it is consistent)
  • For selected projects, finds local support companies with competence in the identified solution
  • Collect the needs of potential OSS users, using standardized forms (Technology Request/Technology Offer, TR/TO) to identify IT needs. Find the set of OSS projects that together satisfies the Technology Request; if there are still unsatisfied requirements, join together several interested users to ask (with a commercial offer) for a custom-made OSS extension or project
  • Aggregate and restructure the information created by other actors, like IST, IDABC, individual national initiatives (OSOSS, KBST, COSS, …)

This models helps in overcoming several hurdles to OSS adoption:

  • Correctly identify needs, and through analysis of already published TR can help in aggregating demand
  • Helps in finding appropriate OSS solutions, even when solutions are created through combination of individual pieces
  • Helps in finding actors that can provide commercial support or know-how

It does have several potential advantages over traditional mediation services:

  • The center does NOT participate in the commercial exchange, and in this sense acts as a pure catalyst. This way it does not compete with existing OSS companies, but provides increased visibility and an additional dissemination channel
  • It remains a simple and lean structure, reducing the management costs
  • By reusing competences and information from many sources, it can become a significant learning center even for OSS companies (for example, in the field of business models for a specific OSS project)
  • It is compatible with traditional IT incubators, and can reuse most of the same structures

Most of this idea revolves around the concept of sharing effort, and reusing knowledge already developed in other areas or countries. I find it strange that the most difficult idea among these competence centers is… sharing.

(update: corrected the network project name – Qualipso, not Qualoss. Thanks to Matteo for spotting it.)

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