Open is one of those words which is radically overused in our industry. “Open source”, “open standard”, “open interoperability” – it all sounds great doesn’t it? Much better than substituting closed in any of those phrases, and if you go through my blog posts and other public utterances the word open comes up quite a lot! Like a lot of techies, I tend to use it without justification in a way that takes it as a given that open is better than closed or proprietary. Why is that?
As a technology implementer I’ve always favoured stuff that doesn’t lock me in to a particular vendor’s way of doing things long term because in my experience that is the only way to get big complex jobs done properly in a way that stands the test of time. If I choose a vendor proprietary technology then I come unstuck when their priorities diverge from mine – something that is often inevitable at some point as they need to lock in value, and I need to enhance and grow.
It isn’t just me. If I look at all of the really big developments in our industry that have happened in my professional lifetime, you can trace their existence in their current form to the open exchange of technology: the Internet (TCP/IP stack in BSD UNIX and it’s derivatives), email (SMTP in Sendmail), the WWW (CERN/W3C, HTTP in NCSA Mosaic). Sure, vendors came along with proprietary technology at a point in the game and you could argue that development of the Internet wouldn’t have occurred at the same pace without Cisco routers or Microsoft putting their browser on every desktop, but the reality is that they just made a dime by offering products that open development projects had established a need for. Would Microsoft have developed IE if people weren’t putting Mosaic and Netscape on their MS desktops?
From the other side of the fence as a vendor, there is a powerful line of reasoning that says we create the most value by locking customers in to our own technologies in order to assure that they buy the whole solution from us and have a vested interest in staying with us long term because of the size of their “ipcortex investment”. The trouble is that as a user I hate that kind of artificial enrichment which often increases my technology cost way beyond the benefit to the vendor.
That’s why you will never see an ipcortex handset that only works with our PBX, or a proprietary, expensive Windows executable based operator console that locks your users into our way of doing things. As a vendor of open technology, we know that about 75% of the investment that our customers make in a UC solution is on things like handsets and other peripherals that work just as well with other SIP based open systems.
If we don’t continually provide our customers with what they need then they can simply rip out the PBX and replace it with another open CPE or hosted solution using the same handsets and endpoints at minimal relative cost. That is actually good for us as well as our customers as it keeps us focussed long-term on what is good for them rather than farming our locked-in base or pandering to short term sales growth.
When I look at our oldest customers, those that we shipped units to in 2005, the vast majority are still customers and running latest versions of our software so I guess that this supports my theory that providing an easy customer exit strategy in the form of open technology adoption keeps us honest and responsive and is therefore in our, as well as our customers’ long term interests!