Open Source

Acquia Says Open Source Helps Enterprises Thrive in Today’s Digital Disruption

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Editor’s Note: Enterprises are rapidly adopting open-source software to achieve value far beyond just lowering costs. Tom Wentworth, CMO at open-source provider Acquia, discusses how open source addresses trends in evolving enterprise needs and shares examples of return on investment that enterprises achieve through open source.

SandHill.com: Please describe how open source is driving digital transformation in the enterprise. What has changed over the past 12 months? 

Tom Wentworth: Enterprises, like all businesses today, are trying to survive in a time of digital disruption. The market is beyond competitive. Look at how digital pioneers like Netflix and Amazon have transformed their industries. It’s only a matter of time before that happens to every industry, if they aren’t ready to innovate. 

Open source allows enterprise business to place its bet on the freedom to innovate. The global developer communities bring unforeseen development speed, and the lack of high license fees mean that resources can be invested in a great digital experience. Most importantly, though, open source provides the freedom to innovate, plan out your own product road map, and respond quickly to market demands. That equals survival. 

Open source is technology’s response to digital disruption, providing enterprise business the tools that it now finds are essential to survive. We’re seeing more and more large organizations adopting open source to do a job that they had difficulty executing on conventional technology, and having great success. 

SandHill.com: Please share an example of such a success with open source. 

Tom Wentworth: The case of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is interesting. The MTA had been working on a site to let commuters know expected arrival times for subway service. Yet the more people who used the site, the more it slowed down. In moving to open-source Drupal and an open-source cloud platform, the MTA delivered a better site that was able to handle traffic at a greater scale. 

It also delivered mobile apps to keep travelers connected on the go. The mobile apps and Web infrastructure proved invaluable during Superstorm Sandy; despite power outages, flooding and other catastrophic conditions, hundreds of thousands of commuters were able to quickly know if travel was possible. This was open source proving the model of being able to communicate directly with individuals on a mass scale and, in this case, play a vital role in public safety. Open source was able to successfully fulfill the mission of digital for the MTA: constant and direct communications with the commuters of New York, particularly during emergencies. 

SandHill.com: In what ways are enterprise needs changing?

Tom Wentworth: Actually even the definition of “enterprise” is changing. Enterprise has always implied a big company with a corresponding big IT spend, often with traditional technology vendors like IBM and Oracle. But today even the largest enterprises are starting to look a lot more like a startup, adopting open source and cloud-based technologies like Box, Workday, Marketo, Acquia and others. Business functions like marketing are starting to own more of the technology budget, and they aren’t tied to the legacy IT platforms of the past. 

So while market share and size may define a business as an enterprise, businesses that own large segments of the market can lose them quickly, as digital disruption essentially has meant leveling the playing field. Best-in-class technologies are no longer limited to companies with massive technology budgets. 

SandHill.com: What impact is open source having on the changing role of CIOs? 

Tom Wentworth: The ability to innovate rapidly and crowdsource development on a global scale has made open source the go-to technology, not only for enterprise business, but for government and higher education as well. The slow-moving world of proprietary software suites just doesn’t cut it for today’s CIOs. To move into Big Data and personalization, for example, the best tools are open source, such as Apache Hadoop. 

There has been a secondary effect on CIOs that is related to digital disruption. The world of commerce has reacted to disruption by carving out a new role, that of chief digital officer. This new role is an acknowledgement of a skill set that is different from CIO, but overlapping in many ways. The CDO is expected to be able to create optimal engagement with the consumer using technology, while the CIO’s role often is more one of technical infrastructure. So, in the end, digital disruption has elevated open source, and at the same time created some pressure on the CIO role. 

SandHill.com: What has Acquia heard from existing or potential clients during the past 12 months regarding use of open-source software that is causing Acquia to enhance its offerings/capabilities? 

Tom Wentworth: Though most companies and organizations wouldn’t say it quite this way, they are aware that digital disruption has changed the game. There is a fear that they are not where they need to be, in terms of digital marketing — now the primary marketing channel — or digital “relationships” with their audience or customers. 

Whether or not they can put it into words, they do understand that they need the freedom of open source to be agile and innovative. Our clients understand the market is rapidly and continually evolving and that no company has all the resources it might need to create content, community and commerce solutions in line with the demands of today’s digital marketplace. 

That’s why our focus is squarely on helping our clients create great digital experiences for their customers. We have the capability to create a best-of-breed solution, which simply means to use the best technologies and solutions a particular company might need. This is in line with our clients’ need to continually respond to the market. 

SandHill.com: What do you think will be the most significant trend in open source over the next 12-18 months? 

Tom Wentworth: Using technologies that are aimed at personalizing and customizing customer interactions. To provide this kind of powerful, responsive experience requires assembling, analyzing and then employing a tremendous amount of information. Even proprietary technology companies are adopting open-source frameworks like Apache Hadoop to confront these challenges. 

In the coming year, I believe we’ll see incredible advancements, not only in mining data to build a better digital experience, but in creating more open-source tools to make this kind of data application accessible to all levels of developers and organization, whether they have large or limited budgets. 

Also, the data sources that feed these personalized experiences will become more standardized and refined through open source, greatly easing the investment and reducing the required skill set for developing the “great digital experience.” 

SandHill.com: Please share another example of how Acquia provided value outcomes for a client and explain why that outcome could not have been achieved without open-source software. 

Tom Wentworth: One client, a world-class art museum, had, literally, a treasure trove of incredible content that they wanted to make available to the public online. Their resources were limited, and they quickly realized that nearly their entire budget would have to go to proprietary licensing costs, eliminating their opportunity to unlock the arts and antiquities. In the end, by going to open source, and avoiding the high costs of a proprietary system, they were able to put the needed resources into fulfilling their mission and providing these world-renowned treasures to the public. 

SandHill.com: Besides lowering costs, what are the primary reasons so many businesses are shifting to open-source software? 

Tom Wentworth: Open-source software isn’t just cheaper, it’s better. It innovates faster and is higher quality. Traditional enterprise software isn’t keeping pace with the rapid pace of modern business. What makes open source work is the vibrant community behind successful projects like Hadoop, Git, OpenStack, etc. 

With Drupal, as one open-source example, there is a worldwide community of about 20,000 developers continually contributing and giving back to the advancement of Drupal technology. This extends far beyond just technical cooperation. This is truly a worldwide community, and its members not only communicate and cooperate online, but also meet at conferences, camps and small get-togethers called meetups. This global community and worldwide collaboration is the reason that open source is taking the lead in providing the solution to the current state of digital disruption. 

Acquia was a collaborator in the 2013 Future of Open Source survey. 

Tom Wentworth is chief marketing officer at Acquia, responsible for global marketing strategy and execution. He has spent most of his 18-year career in the Web content management space, including more than a decade at Interwoven (now HP/Autonomy) and then at Ektron. Click here to read blog posts from Tom about the power of open source. 

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of SandHill.com

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