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Is the Open Meme Starting to Spread?

The success of open-source software has far exceeded initial expectations. When Linus Torvalds launched the Linux project back in 1991, few people imagined that free software developed by open communities would ever match – let alone surpass – the efforts of industry giants such as IBM and Microsoft. Yet in a wide range of areas this has been precisely the case. Without the contributions of Linux, Apache, Java, Perl, Python, MySQL, Hadoop and many other open initiatives, the internet would be a smaller, less interesting and much more expensive place.

Open Meme

Without the contributions of Linux, Apache, Java, Perl, Python, MySQL, Hadoop and many other open initiatives, the internet would be a smaller, less interesting and much more expensive place.

Having observed these extraordinary developments, we have long speculated that the open meme would eventually spread to non-IT sectors. There are three main reasons why we think this is likely:

  1. Software is increasingly critical to virtually every industry, so it seems logical that the dynamics of the software market would spread to other industry sectors.
  2. As the internet is now the backbone of modern business, much more open forms of community participation are now possible in just about every industry sector.
  3. Cost and innovation pressures are now so great in so many sectors that new business and technology approaches must increasingly be considered.

While these three forces have been building for some time, it appears that we may be reaching an inflection point where open technologies start to become widespread across the broader economy. Consider the following developments described in our recent report Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Strategies for an Increasingly Open Economy:

  • Open source designs are a major part of the burgeoning 3D printing industry – from the design of open cars to the 3DP machines themselves.
  • Harvard, MIT and Stanford are among the major universities making much of their courseware freely available. The growth of the YouTube-driven Khan Academy is arguably even more impressive.
  • The US Veterans Administration is experimenting with open source health-care systems in vital areas such as electronic medical records.
  • Government open data initiatives are rapidly emerging at both local and national levels, creating important new business opportunities.
  • Deutsche Bank, through its Lodestone Foundation initiative, is exploring open systems ideas within the investment banking industry.

While all of these developments have their challenges and will evolve at their own pace, they share a common interest in viewing certain activities as open processes with the hope of lowering costs, expanding usage and accelerating innovation.

IT’s open technology knowledge and experience should be leveraged across the firm.

If the open meme spreads successfully beyond the IT industry, it will create signifi cant opportunities for Enterprise IT. Open systems encompass a broad range of interrelated challenges – including software licensing, interoperability standards, and transparency of process and governance. Many businesses will need to gain experience in these areas and the forms of cooperative competition they often imply. IT’s open technology knowledge and experience should be leveraged across the firm.

This potential should only grow over time. As Marc Andreesson observed, “Software is eating the world”. While we think it is more accurate to say that information and software make it possible to re-imagine just about everything, the basic point is the same. Virtual system dynamics are becoming crucial to an ever-wider share of the global economy, and as this happens new business possibilities will continue to emerge. This means that more and more people will need to play the open systems game, and those firms and individuals that learn to play it well seem destined to prosper.


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Research Commentary

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David Moschella
Research Fellow
David Moschella, based in the United States, is a Research Fellow for Leading Edge Forum.  David's focus is on industry disruptions, machine intelligence and related business model strategies.  David was previously Global Research Director of the programme. David’s key areas of expertise include globalization, industry restructuring, disruptive technologies, and the co-evolution of business and IT.  He is the author of multiple research reports, including Disrupting the Professions through Machine Learning and Digital Trust, 2016 Study Tour Report: Applying Machine Intelligence, There is Now a Formula for Machine Intelligence Innovation,  Embracing 'the Matrix' and the Machine Intelligence Era and The Myths and Realities of Digital Disruption. An author and columnist, David’s second book, Customer-Driven IT, How Users Are Shaping Technology Industry Growth, was published in 2003 by Harvard Business School Press.  The book predicted the shift from a supplier-driven to today’s customer-led IT environment.  His 1997 book, Waves of Power, assessed global competition within the IT supplier community.  He has written some 200 columns for Computerworld, the IT Industry’s leading publication on Enterprise IT, and has presented at countless industry events all around the world. David previously spent 15 years with International Data Corporation, where he was IDC’s main spokesperson on global IT industry trends and was responsible for its worldwide technology, industry and market forecasts.    


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