Thinking about opensource and VRM

For many years I’ve been of the belief that:

  • when a problem is generic look to the opensource community for the solution
  • when a problem is specific to a vertical market look to the commercial community
  • when a problem is unique to your organisation look to your own developers

You don’t have to be legalistic about it, this is just a rule of thumb and, at least to my warped mind, represents common sense.

The way I’ve phrased it, I may give the impression that the opensource community is incapable of solving vertical market problems. That is not the case. “Generic” is in the eye of the beholder: if there is sufficient scale then the opensource community will respond. It is the scale rather than the vertical-market-ness that determines this response.

Take a look at OpenMRS: a community-developed, open-source, enterprise electronic medical record system framework. It is based on Java, Hibernate, Tomcat, MySQL and XML, and runs via a browser.

OpenMRS is not unique. As far as I can make out, the Collaborative Software Initiative, which I first heard of via Dana Blankenhorn, was founded precisely to build vertical market apps and stacks in environments where the scale was attractive.

It is now a frightening five years since we started talking about “the missing opensource projects“. It is over four years since R0ml Lefkowitz gave his seminal presentation at OSBC 2004. Opensource is gently moving up the stack; gently being the operative word.

I cannot help but think that there is a direct and important correlation between this movement of opensource up the stack and the mushrooming of VRM. The VRM movement needs leverage, and this leverage cannot come from the existing “vendor” community. Of course there are enlightened people within the vendor community, and it is not my intention to disparage them. But you can’t break wind against thunder and expect an equitable outcome.

There is hope yet. The opensource community is moving up the stack, from generic to large-scale vertical. The VRM movement is gathering pace and momentum. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of overlap between the two “communities”, if you can call them that. There is a difference, though; opensource is in well-established technical execution, while VRM is still moving through the amorphous concept-wrangling stage.

For VRM to get to full-speed-ahead execution, something else needs to happen. And I think that something else is the “verticalisation” of opensource. The good news is that it’s begun to happen.


7 thoughts on “Thinking about opensource and VRM”

  1. It truly is fascinating to be a part of open source in vertical markets. I’m a part of Collaborative Software Initiative. Some very exciting things are happening.

    To build on your comment re: vertical software & open source, back in January, I broke that category up a bit:

    I really need to post again on this topic as there is even more there.

    The part that excites me personally the most is what I called the “industry boat lifters”.

  2. For some hideous reason your ‘breaking wind against thunder’ remark caused my warped synaptic network to light up around an old childhood saying ‘to start a movement – eat a prune’.

    Musing lazily on your post (and a good night’s sleep) makes me wonder if alignment around a common foe might be one condition that can help VRM succed. Indeed, I would submit that focus on a common foe might be useful in galvanising any movement, particularly those ‘up the stack’ which lack easy scale and need to work harder to shift from scarcity to abundance.

    Hmm, I think I feel a blog-post (or something) moving.

    Take care JP, and keep musing – I was reading Everthing is Miscellaneous when your library laws post came along and that certainly hieghtened my interest in the book.

    Fang – Mike Seyfang

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