Three words for openness: Transparency, Community, and Certainty

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I’m in the middle of my beginning-of-the year heavy travel season and in the last three weeks I’ve been to Europe twice (five countries), San Francisco, and will have meetings in New York, Connecticut, and Washington, DC, this week. That’s hectic, but there is much more to say and talk about than I have time for even in all this time on the road. In several of the talks I’ve given recently, I ended my comments with three important words, and I think these sum up my message around openness for 2006: Transparency, Community, and Certainty.

People are sick of not knowing. Not knowing if code contains security problems because they can’t see it. Not knowing if their private information is being shared with people to whom they did not give authorization. Not knowing what goes on behind the closed doors of certain standards organizations. Not knowing if vendors are trying to use trade secrets instead of openness to achieve software interoperability. Not knowing why governments would possibly decide to use proprietary or vendor-dictated specifications when they are clearly against the long-term best interests of the citizens, especially those who are now young and will have to deal with decisions made now once they reach adulthood.

People want answers and they want to see what is going on. They want transparency into how their software will work together with the software that their customers, partners, and suppliers use. They want to know if vendors are trying to lock them into particular platforms or applications on those platforms.

No one vendor can do it all anymore, if that was ever the case. We at IBM seemingly used to think we could, but we learned some hard lessons and we’re a better company for it. We hope our customers agree. When you can’t do everything yourself, you need to trust others and you need to rely on smart people to do what they do best. There are communities inside organizations, but even more powerful ones that span group and company boundaries. These communities can look after each other and advance things that are in the public interest or for the common good. This includes creating things for others to use, but also helping other community members succeed and stay safe.

In the IT world, this means that openness is perfectly compatible with business success, and it is increasingly important for helping improve the severe security and privacy issues on the Internet with which we are now faced. I don’t trust any single vendor to get this right, and the industry track record is pretty lousy. Recent statements about previous efforts like Microsoft Hailstorm such as “We partly didn’t know what it was, and certainly what the press said it was wasn’t what we thought it was, but even what we thought it was we didn’t end up doing all of that.” by Bill Gates in the Financial Times don’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling that individual vendors are going to solve our security and privacy issues now.

Certainty means removing ambiguity. It means having better patent quality. It means knowing things will interoperate because the standards that connect things are real, open efforts that don’t especially advantage one vendor’s products. It means knowing that a community with more than one vendor’s interests at heart will maintain compatibility or provide good, well documented, openly described migration paths so that we know our systems will work and our information will be accessible for a long, long time.

So insist on transparency, contribute to and depend on the wisdom of communities, and make certain that your future isn’t being compromised to perpetuate closed, ancient IT business models.

More tomorrow.

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