Enterprise 2.0, Boston Judgement Day (4) – Who should the customer believe?

With so many choices when selecting a Web2.0 Enterprise 2.0 strategy, who should the customer believe: the vendors; the analysts or themselves? Seeing the numerous vendors categorised at Tony Byrne‘s CMS session, selecting the right solution must be a difficult decision for any customer. I heard many customers during the conference say that the event was too much of a ‘Vendor fest’, which was echoed at the final ‘Town Hall’ feedback back session.

Despite all the vendors shouting from the rooftops the majority of the case studies presented were using Opensource applications (Three out of the five: CIA; Sony and Pfizer). Even the wonderful case from Lockheed Martin was customised on the ‘included’ version of Sharepoint with a massive 14,000 man day effort. Interestingly there was talk from Lockheed of Opensourcing their code and expressions of interest from the audience .

Was the stark difference between what we saw from the vendors and what we heard from customer cases because these users were early adopters (visionaries) prepared to work with unpolished Opensource? Or is Opensource providing the working products, with the help of in-house technical expertise, being demanded by customers. It is well know in the industry that some Opensource is better than commercial code.

Unfortunately I missed the opinions from Opensource Panel session at the Conference with Bob Bickel of Ringside Networks, Jeff Whatcott of Acquia and John Newton of Alfresco but caught up with them on John Eckman  MP3 recording.

Perhaps Enterprise businesses are now looking to free applications as in the Web2.0 world. It is a compelling argument, free/low cost and working products. There is no doubt Opensource is on the rise, as supported by Jeffery Walker of Atlassian. Yet only 5% of vendors at the conference were representing this large and growing community, a view shared by Kathleen Reidy and John Eckman. Interestingly some of the commercial products at the conference are reliant and partially build upon Opensource, some even up to 80% I was reliably informed! Customers maybe starting to question why pay for an application which is built on Opensource. The problem with Opensource is it can sometimes be poorly packaged and can need a lot of attention to set-up and maintain.

The cases presented at the ‘leading Enterprise 2.0 conference’ shows that customers are ‘baking’ or testing solutions before fully implementing them as recommended by Tony of CMS. Opensource offers a very attractive approach to testing and trying before buying. I believe customers are increasingly listening to each others experiences, believe less in the vendor’s promises and are more willing to use Opensource. However, as Milton Friedman said ‘There’s no such thing as free lunch’. Customers say they want more case studies and less vendor pitches. However, someone has to subsidise conferences and pay for the commercial development work to round Opensource products off for the mainstream.

I believe the balance between Opensource and the proprietary commercial software is going to change with many vendors having to move more towards a business model like MySQL(pre-Sun) or MindTouch who were at the conference. Because many of today’s vendors are so proprietary and lack flexibility they may not be able to make this transition. However the challenge Opensource vendors have is making healthy revenues from a very diverse, demanding and large customer base. Currently the most effective and successful software vendor model for the future still remains unclear.

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