Adoption-Led as a Force of Nature

Crater Lake Sunrise

In discussing how the software market is increasingly an adoption-led one, a frequent point of departure is to look at ways in which existing software companies are pursuing open source models.

Centralised to Distributed

But the idea that the adoption-led model is a go-to-market strategy created by software vendors is wrong. Although as Zack observes it has become a successful driver for some companies, it is fundamentally a consequence of a set of social changes which in turn are the consequence of the pervasive nature of the Internet. No amount of debate for and against an adoption-led business model will ever change the fact that the market is moving that way.

The first mechanised communications - dating back to before the Industrial Revolution - helped to create a hub-and-spoke social topology. The ability to communicate to a large number of people was necessarily centralised and recognition of authorship became more important. Interestingly, this is when copyright law first emerged. And as more communications became industrialised, so did society become more centralised. Author at the hub, readers at the spokes, suppliers at the hub, customers at the spokes, government at the hub, citizens at the spokes. The Web is changing that. The topology is changing to a mesh that even crosses cultures and borders. Peer-to-peer is the new order.

While the internet has existed for a relatively long time in technology terms, the Web as an application has driven it to ubiquity in a very short time. And this is what gave the equally long-standing Free software movement the vehicle it needed to influence the mainstream. The two together have placed a growing wealth of software within reach of every sufficiently skilled developer, giving them the freedom to use it however they wish. As Stormy points out, they can now bypass the whole existing system.

Demands a Response

It's this sudden wealth of choice which created the adoption-led movement that I described before. It didn't - and doesn't - need vendors to happen. Rather, it demands a response from vendors. Some try to ignore or to discredit it. Some pay lip-service to it, using its fruits but shunning true participation. And some embrace it, employing people to work within open source communities. Each of these approaches has business models associated. None of these approaches have themselves caused the adoption-led market to spring into existence.

Now, although this movement did not need vendors to make it happen, vendors have the opportunity to help it into the mainstream for business usage. As I suggested in my response to Savio, there's a lot of value that a vendor can add:

The model assumes that enterprise users will want the value-added content of a "subscription" or "enterprise version". Value-add can include patch management, performance tuning, additional utilities and more. Corporate governance regulations may make enterprises using software for a mission-critical purpose require a service contract, or seek a warranty for their software infrastructure. Those who are embedding software in their own product may require indemnification. Finally, many businesses are reluctant (for whatever reason) to use open source licenses and so want commercial licenses for their production systems.

To deliver on that value, it's my belief that the biggest opportunities lie beyond the mere aggregation of the work of others (although that does seem to be a viable option for some). I believe that through influencing the direction of a project, through employing committers to an open source code base, by creating new code, by being a responsible community steward and by bringing leadership to the challenges open source faces, a software vendor can take full advantage of the opportunities the adoption-led market presents. And I believe that success will be proportional to the contribution made. No free lunches, at least for those wanting job security.

Led, not Driven

This is the response of the software industry to the mesh topology. It's one where copyright, through open source licenses, is used to foster creativity, rather than to restrict access (and the inverse for patents - a reversal worth discussing elsewhere). We are moving from the "procurement-driven market" to the "adoption-led market". One is driven by vendors. The other is led by deployers and developers. That's the key, and I think other industries should examine with interest the lead that the software market is providing, since I expect the phenomenon to spread beyond software.

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Has anyone told the Procurement Managers in organisations that take up an "adoption-led" Open Source software model that they will be 'redundant' and surplice to requirment when it comes to their traditional role of negotiating purchases in their organisations favour ? At least for Software ? And that once in an "adoption-led" model, like the Software Market v.3 model that you often talk about, that they will be left negotiating for kit and the support contracts needed to host and manage the software ?

There is a lot of vested interest in organisations that means that their is, and will be, a tremendous amount of opposition to the adoption of Open Source. This is outside of more traditional 'barriers to adoption' based around technology arguments over the benefits and advantages of Open Source software, in comparison to that of other, mainly older and proprietary models.

Personally I think that the 'Tipping Point' for adoption of Open Source will occur around three 'triggers' (although like Keynes, I'm happy to change my mind when presented with other evidence):

1. Shared Benefit

Everyone benefits, or can see the benefit in a 'traditional' organisation (without it's adoption affecting them adversally).

2. To compete against businesses who aren't 'tied' into Closed Software

More 'traditional' organisations are forced to adopt Internet friendly, web2.0 architectures, so as to continue to compete against the web2.0 startups and Internet 'Gorillas' (at this point, of course, web2.0 and the Internet will truly be 'embedded' into these organisations business models as not only a major channel, but the major channel).

3. Entrepreneurism, Innovation, and the fight against Corporate Inertia

Increasingly I've seen the move towards sponsoring larger numbers of small business focused development teams, against that of fewer numbers of large development teams, around large, monolithic projects. I see this almost as 'spread betting' applied to the software development project team model, and leverages RAD software project management techniques, as well as stuff like XP, Scrum and the like. Frankly this is very similar to the small cross-function / multi-function teams model championed by Tom Peters, initially in "A Passion for Excellence", and more fully in "The Circle of Innovation: You Can't Shrink Your Way to Greatness", as a means to bring Entrepreneurism and Innovation back into organisations, and in part to combat deadly Corporate Inertia.


At least in the UK, and certainly amongst a number of the organisation I work with, I feel many of them still need, and would benefit from, a greater level self awareness about the amount of Open Source software that they have adopted and use. And that they should take a more mature approach to how both strategically and tactically they use Open Source software to gain business advantage. In the UK this ranges from those organisations that are immensely aware, even to the point of patenting certain Open Source developed technology that they have built, to those organisations that pointedly refuse to accept that they use Open Source software at all despite the evidence of their own IT Estates (never mind having a published 'Open Source strategy / policy' document).

Just my 2p's worth.



Posted by Wayne Horkan on March 13, 2008 at 10:20 PM PDT #

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Wayne. Reading through the "triggers" you cite, I believe these are in fact the elements of the adoption-led approach I believe is emerging, especially when you say "I've seen the move towards sponsoring larger numbers of small business focused development teams".

In regard to your first question, "Has anyone told the Procurement Managers", the answer is a broad no. They are often confused by open source because they are looking for the control points of the procurement-driven model, and they aren't present in adoption-led solutions. There's definitely a role for people to manage the terms for the deployment-time subscriptions businesses will bw buying (although I expect the margins, and thus the willingness to negotiate terms, to be lower).

Just as no-one warned the IT managers about the rise of the PC until it was too late, I expect the adoption-led phenomenon will be below the radar for many in the traditional IT organisation, especially if their job depends on policing the procurement-driven model.

Posted by Simon Phipps on March 13, 2008 at 10:55 PM PDT #

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