Open communications vs. closed communications?

Open communications are key to making the inevitable multimodal, multi-vendor communication environment work, so why aren't more vendors providing open-source solutions?

It may be a heretical question. But it's one the analysts are probably asking about open communications positioning: so, really, what's wrong with closed communications?

The argument against 'open' positioning goes like this. We've been living with proprietary Information and Communications Technology (ICT) systems for years. Microsoft Office is a proprietary software suite and is massively popular. SAP doesn't go out of its way to integrate with other ERP systems. Cisco CallManager has sold well without a hybrid product, or trying too hard to accommodate its rivals. Where's the clear advantage of an open model, even in communications? It is an important challenge to answer. It's an argument that will be repeated. So the first stage of the answer is to ask what customers really want from communications.

Applications must work well, and play well with others.

Yes, customers want to make lots of profit. But to support them in doing this, it's reasonable to say that customers expect communications to cost-effectively knit together the organization's many and varied processes into excellent processes. And more than this, customers want communications to be flexible enough to change and grow as the organization does.

There are two necessary conditions to achieve these two fairly simple objectives. The first is for the organization to have 'best of breed' ways of achieving the separate functions in each of its processes. The second necessary condition is for the enterprise to integrate these point functions excellently. Applications must work well, and play well with others.

Regarding the first condition, in order to have best of breed functions, the organization needs to buy the best ICT solutions for a particular function. Let's use this example: the enterprise needs to buy the best word processing application.

Open communications is based on standards, increasing the likelihood of seamless integration among vendors – a core component of its appeal. So why haven't all vendors gone open source?

In order to integrate these point applications excellently, the second requirement, the company needs to buy solutions that work well together -- and this is where the problem lies. Closed, proprietary point solutions don't often integrate well. Knowing this, most organizations then compromise. Instead of buying the best word processing package, they buy the best office suite: a group of software designed to work well together.

But the solution suite often cannot cover all functions needed by a process. At the edge of the suite, the solution again needs to integrate. Even though the customer has compromised on ultimate quality, it has not been able to avoid expensive customization to join up the silos. What, then, is the benefit of initially sacrificing quality? Gartner (leading IT research and advisory company) would agree that integration is the second biggest spending priority for customers after security.

Open communications is based on standards, increasing the likelihood of seamless integration among vendors – a core component of its appeal. So why haven't all vendors gone open source? The answer is that open-sourced, standards-based applications are function-poor: the creators make their money from adding functionality and of course charging for the integration.

The dream for customers, surely, is to get an effective and well-devised functional solution that is based deep-down on standards and service-oriented architecture (SOA), to make integration easy. That's not open source, and is definitely not closed, proprietary. It's open communications.

For more information: 

  • Expert Jon Arnold explains how it's possibly to mix different unified communications solutions. 
  • Will vendors really give up proprietary protocols to support SIP?
  • Not every phone fits with every phone system.

About the author: Paul Holliday is a global market analyst for Siemens Enterprise Communications. Focused on services and solutions, he has had local responsibility for market intelligence in the UK since 2004. His consulting background includes four years in an internal services arm of the UK Post Office. Paul's blog focuses on the disruptive effects of open communications on the way businesses organize and compete.


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