Blog post

Open Source in 2020

By Brian Prentice | December 27, 2009 | 4 Comments

The Future of Ownership - IP & IT Industry

Like all good things, holidays must also come to an end. And as I proudly survey my complete lack of accomplishment over the last couple of weeks I can’t help but notice the harbingers of an important new season.

Gift wrapping, once tightly wound around its cardboard tube has long since been shredded, crunched up and shoved in the recycle bin.

The scale in my bathroom has moved a few kilos in the wrong direction.

I’m dreading the arrival of my next credit card statement – a concern my financially-cocooned children blissfully ignore as they keep pestering me for all the downloads and accessories that their digital christmas presents now require.

As the fading autumn light tells the deciduous tree that it’s time to put on its annual spectacle of fall colors, all of these are signals that tells this analyst that the spectacle of annual prognostication, unique to my species, is now upon me. But this year is special. With the advent of a new decade I can now indulge myself in an entire ten years worth of predictions. What unbridled joy.

So, what then do the teens hold for open source? Well, if I look back over the previous two decades I see the nineties as a time of inception and establishment. The naughties were largely about proliferation through growing understanding. I believe we are now moving to a era of “open source normalcy.” What do I mean by that? By 2020 open source will be so conceptually and practically integrated into the way business is done that the concept of blogging on open source in 2030 will be about as interesting as predicting the future of double-entry bookkeeping.

Of course that road will not be without a continual shift in perception and some discomfort as we face a wave of creative destruction. There are five major themes tied to open source that I believe will be taken for granted by 2020.

  • Open Source is a supply chain solution – One of the things that makes open source such an interest topic is the amorphous nature of exactly what it is. Is it simply a licensing agreement. Is it an approach to software development. Is it philosophical movement? By 2020 we’ll have answered that question – open source is a necessary component of all organizations’ supply chain strategies. It is essentially a way to manage cost and mitigate 3rd party dependencies. All other aspects of open source will be seen as the tactical components of achieving this objective
  • Politicians have a greater impact on open source than entrepreneurs – The politicisation of the IT industry continues to gather steam and unfortunately I see nothing stopping that momentum. IT companies are taking their place alongside large media, pharmaceutical and financial organizations as major lobbyists. Over the last ten years, the advancement in entrepreneurial business models has been central to the growth of open source. But as innovative business models start impacting entrenched industry interests you can rest assured that the establishment will increasingly turn to politicians for legislative and regulatory relief. What we’re already seeing today in areas such as patent reform or anti-trust investigations is only the start of things to come.
  • Open source globalizes the software industry – I’m not sure many people in the US realize this but open source has long been seen as an industrial policy strategy by governments around the world. In it they see the opportunity to de-couple a critical industry from the US firms that dominated it. Open source, it’s reasoned, can reduce the cost of government, support greater local employment and retain profits in-country for taxation. The problem is that this lofty industry policy objective is very difficult to achieve in a pragmatic manner. But I’m convinced that these challenges will be slowly overcome and the ramifications for the software industry over this new decade will be massive.
  • Open source impacts ERP afterall – Yet another fascinating aspect of open source over the previous ten years has been the way it has moved up the software stack. No longer is open source about operating systems, databases and development tools. It’s about collaboration, content management, middleware, and social software – to name a few. But the one place it really isn’t is in ERP. Some people believe that ERP represents a line that open source simply can’t cross into. I don’t believe that. Does that mean that in 2020 we’ll see large scale open source ERP solutions that compete directly with SAP and Oracle’s products. I doubt it. But I do believe that we will see a proliferation of open source business processes. And that will call into question the value of ERP as a packaging construct for distributing non-differentiating business processes.
  • Free is fringe – “Free” – be it gratis or libre – was a defining characteristic of open source in 2000. It is notably less so in 2010. Expect that momentum to continue. I know this will rub some people the wrong way but we don’t live in a world that longs for things to be free. So the more open source becomes woven into the fabric of the world’s economy the more the notion of “free” will be seen as quaint – much like communal farms are in the world of agriculture.

Comments are closed


  • Ashok says:

    Good article looking deep into the crystal glass. However, when you say that open source has not crossed into ERP, I presume you are referring to only enterprise ERP. xTuple reported doubling both its customer and partner base. Compiere and OpenBravo have been expanding their reach significantly as well.

  • Hi Ashok – yes, I’m aware of these OSS ERP solutions (I’d add ERP5 as in interesting offering too). Regardless of how they’re growing I don’t think we can say that OSS has had the same impact in ERP as it has had in many other areas of the software stack. Nor am I convinced that we’ll see large companies migrating from SAP or Oracle to OpenBravo even in ten years. I’m suggesting here that OSS will find it’s way into business processes. That will impact ERP in a non-linear way since ERP is essential a packaging construct for digitized business processes.

  • Mike Bates says:

    Interesting post Brian. I think you should also add Apache OFBiz to your list of open source ERP contenders to watch. Also, as a company HotWax Media has seen numerous examples of open source ERP competing directly with (and winning against) the larger commercial packages, so perhaps the large company migration you reference may yet occur. Pending a larger shift at the industry level, there is nevertheless plenty of business to be won for companies implementing open source ERP solutions. Thanks again for the post.

  • Hi Mike Bates – yes, you’re right OFBiz is another one. I too have been wondering whether this is just a maturity issue – that it just a matter of time before OSS ERP takes on big SAP/Oracle deployments. But I’ve moved away from that position because of the inertia of ERP in general. I think it’s more likely that these existing system will stick around for decades moving into the legacy category. The real action, IMHO, is the extent to which a business application is evolving within an organization and how dynamically it’s being used. And this is where I think OSS business processes become more interesting – particularly if they’re a central part of a SOA initiative.