In the aftermath of Apple, Samsung patent litigation, I have been having innovation discussions with IT Executive leadership and CIOs. The new mandate for IT CIOs is – develop cutting edge, cost effective innovation. With IT being asked to do more with less, this mandate does indicate CEOs are willing to open purse strings for innovation. 

I recommend firms join open source projects and contribute resources (time, people and money). Subsequently (if needed) , they can branch off their own open source project to focus on their core customers. This suggestion may not be best suited for all firms , and is admittedly controversial. However, firms have found, they can stay ahead of technology changes by contributing to open source projects, avoiding organizational mindset. Some successful projects that branched off or leveraged other open source projects include Google Chrome and Android. Android at it heart uses Dalvik – an open source project. Google realized that  Java needed to be modified at its core to run efficiently on mobile device (the core target audience). As Larry Page of Google says, “Android includes a set of core libraries that provides most of the functionality available in the core libraries of the Java programming language.” However, Dalvik enhances the Java core by permitting mobile applications to run independently, thereby bypassing the original limitation – a crash at the main software affects all programs utilizing the main software (process). Android also has a very efficient light weight core, which is necessary to run on the mobile formfactor (memory limitations)

The other advantage of having an open source derivative is that you have an army of enthusiastic developers working with you to fix problems, and enhance the solution. This translates to an extended development team for the firm. Organizations can  benefit from multiple licensing formats within open source – which permit a firm to decide how open and transferables it wants its IP to be.

Having worked in the IT industry as an architect, before transitioning to business side as a strategist, I have found firms that contribute to open source projects include industry leaders such as IBM, Apple, Google, Red Hat etc, do very well financially in the market, while  exceeding business earning expectation. Industry leaders are focussed on the open source projects they contribute to (core customers, core projects) , and I believe this should be the strategy of other firms as well.

To summarize, look at your business landscape, evaluate your technology options, examine open source projects that fit your company strategy (customers, technology), and then participate. Firms can choose to either participate in open source projects (and benefit) or go the next step , and branch off open source projects to fit your core target customers or markets. I believe either of the above steps will help the IT firm stay ahead of the innovation curve , and let IT be an enabler (differentiator) for business.