Almost everyone can agree the digital era is being fueled by five primary forces — mobile, social, sensor technologies, big data and the cloud. But doesn't open source play a role in digital transformation as well?

That was one of the topics discussed last week during a roundtable discussion sponsored by MIT Technology Review Custom and EnterpriseDB (EDB). The explored how open source software is helping organizations transform their infrastructures to meet today's data-driven demands. 

Panelist Kathleen Kennedy, president of the MIT Technology Review, stressed during the roundtable that today's businesses have to stay competitive in a time of constrained budgets and ever-changing technology. Open source may be key to operating in that modality, she said.

As fellow panelist Ed Boyajian, president and CEO of EDB, further noted, "If 80 percent to 90 percent of your IT spend is on maintenance (such as proprietary software licensing and such), that leaves very little budget for innovation."

But as Boyajian would surely agree, open source brings additional value to enterprises in the digital era. CMSWire took a spark from the conversation that began at the MIT event and invited other technology leaders to share their thoughts.

The Question 

How does open source fuel digital transformation? 

The Answers

Kelly Stirman, VP, MongoDB

Kelly Stirman
As VP of strategy and product at MongoDB, Stirman works closely with customers, partners and the open-source community to articulate the MongoDB vision. Tweet to Kelly Stirman.

"Open source undoubtedly speeds the digital transformation for most companies. I see this happening in several ways. The factor that most people think of, of course, is money — the less a company spends on proprietary software, the more it can dedicate to other facets of digital transformation efforts.

"More important, however, is the question of software capabilities. Open source software allows companies to derive benefit not only from their own IT employees, or from the employees of proprietary software vendors, but from the whole open source community. 

"For example, we've seen this recently in analytics: Apache Spark has emerged very quickly as a faster successor to Hadoop's MapReduce, and I'm sure there will be a new generation coming soon. You don't see that speed of innovation in proprietary software. The open source ethos means that if there's a need for a tool, someone will work to create it.

"There's also a security advantage: the transparency of open source code means that bugs are more easily found and patched, and users can inspect the code they're using themselves. That's something you don't get with closed source software."

David Aponovich, Senior Director, Acquia

David Aponovich
Aponovich is senior director of digital experience at Acquia, where he helps articulate the business and technical value of Drupal and Acquia solutions. Tweet to David Aponovich.

"Today, organizations are expected to engage with users and put them first. They need to create a customer journey. This is the driver of digital transformation. A key differentiator for these companies is often speed — the ability to try something out, to create a new experience, provide new mode of interaction, see whether it succeeds or fails — and keep trying.

"The agility afforded by open source allows users to add features freely, and reformat, refactor and redevelop their platforms however they see fit — all in the name of better serving the customer. With open source, companies benefit from the network effect of a larger community. 

"Open source moves at the speed of digital innovation and drives change and innovation for the benefit of digital experiences — not at the speed of a commercial vendor and its roadmap. Agility and speed become easier to achieve when you're rarely starting from square one."

Jeff Yoshimura, VP, Elastic

Jeff Yoshimura
Yoshimura leads global marketing at Elastic with 20 years of B2B technology and consulting experience. Connect with Jeff Yoshimura on LinkedIn.

"Open source allows developers an ungated experience to rapidly prototype and build applications to meet critical business use cases at scale. By using open source software that lets them integrate real-time data, search, and analytics into their applications, companies can truly transform the digital experience for their end users and customers."

Ritika Gunnar, VP, IBM

Ritika Gunnar
With more than 11 years of experience within IBM, Gunnar is now vice president of data and analytics. Tweet to Ritika Gunnar.

Learning Opportunities

"The rapid adoption of open source technologies across organizations has provided a network-effect of reliability in resiliency, scalability, affordability and adaptability. Not only are these traits critical to open source technology, but they are also necessary for successful digital transformations in business. As a result, there is a strong correlation between open source and digital business models. The two go hand-in-hand."

John Newton, Founder and CTO, Alfresco


John Newton
n addition to co-founding Alfresco, Newton co-founded, designed and led the development of Documentum, which is now owned by EMC. Tweet to John Newton.

"The digital transformation revolution is being fueled by open source. Open source has dramatically reduced the cost of developing new digital platforms that are driving this transformation and the collaborative nature of open source lends not just legions of developers building and sharing code, but sharing entire infrastructure platforms that evolve at their own pace. This rapid, evolution of technology has spawned whole new business models and the platforms that are dominating our economy.

"When we look at the leaders in digital platforms by market value — Google, Amazon, Facebook and even Apple — they owe so much to open source. Even Microsoft is finally embracing open source. 

"The list of new platforms driving digital transformation that are rising include consumer brands such as Nike, manufacturing giants like GE and banking firms like Deutsche Bank. Each owes so much to open source in their move toward digital transformation. The fact that each component they use moves at its own fast pace means these companies can move even faster."

Bryan Thompson, Senior Director, Rackspace

Bryan Thompson
Thompson, senior director of product management, private cloud, at Rackspace, is an experienced technology professional with more than 15 years architecting, implementing and operating enterprise technology solutions. Tweet to Bryan Thompson.

"The rapid innovation that is happening in open source is absolutely affecting the way in which organizations are evolving and transforming themselves. The ability to quickly experiment with new and emerging technologies in a model that does not require companies to make deliberate, long-term investments in proprietary technology has given companies the ability to be inherently more agile in their approach.  

"We find that many of our customers are adopting OpenStack as their chosen platform upon which to innovate. As an open source technology, this gives companies the ability to extend their own cloud infrastructure to internal teams — empowering them to quickly test and experiment with other emerging technologies without the risk or expense that would go with traditional, lengthy evaluations of legacy software solutions and commitment to specific technologies that may lock them in.  

"With teams that are uninhibited by traditional provisioning workflows (as they are able to self-serve from cloud platforms) and embracing open-sourced tools/technologies they are free to experiment quickly, and fail early — moving on to alternate approaches without the expense or risk that would have discouraged such innovation previously."

Shaun Connolly, VP, Hortonworks

Shaun Connolly
As VP of Corporate Strategy, Connolly is focused on enabling Apache Hadoop to power the enterprise’s next-generation data architecture. Tweet to Shaun Connolly.

"In today's world of digital transformation, every business is a data business powered by open source technology. Open source is the norm with the GitHub generation of software developers working in the open for years. 

"At Hortonworks, our strategy is founded on the firm belief that innovation happens best not in isolation but in collaboration. We do our work within Apache Software Foundation projects because its open community process enables a faster pace of innovation built on broad participation. Also, as a founding member of the Open Data Platform Initiative (ODPi), we aim to speed adoption of Connected Data Platforms through ecosystem interoperability rooted in open source. 

"The result is enterprises get easy access to more big data applications and solutions in a way that maximizes choice and minimizes lock-in. Our open approach ensures we focus our energies on enabling our customers to transform their business models by eliminating fragmented data silos that slow down their ability to innovate."

Title image "Light Walk" (CC BY-ND 2.0) by  Hartwig HKD