Keys to Ending the Proprietary Lock In Model

Recently I was asked to speak about “SOA” at an aerospace and defense investment conference. The first thought I had was “why?” I mean, in 40 minutes, what can you say about SOA to make it make sense to a financial audience? (By the way, it turns out I really only had 20 minutes but had mis-read the agenda. I apologize to the presenters that followed me since they had about 10 minutes each after my gaffe). Anyway, I agreed to do it and it got me thinking why investors in this space would be interested in this topic (if in fact they were).

The question I posed to myself was “what impact will ‘SOA’ have on a target investment or acquisition target given the current market climate in Aerospace and Defense. If I were an investor what advantage in my market would I be looking for, and how could I evaluate my investments appropriately? Considering factors like the transition to “NetCentric Warfare”, the emergence of Cyber Warfare, and related trends I decided to expand the topic to SOA, Open Technology, and Web 2.0 – I figured might as well hit all the buzz terms at once and I thought it would tell a better investment story.

The reason I thought it was a better story is because of my growing belief that these three technology trends hold the keys to ending the hegemony of the proprietary lock in business model that has been the model du jour in defense space, well, forever; and I think this is a good thing for everyone if it can be replaced.

Each of these three trends require collaboration across programs for success, they facilitate or encourage co-evolutionary development (rather than the centralized five year plan approach), and they require significant cultural shifts by the participants to be successful. We can’t do SOA, OTD (pdf), or Web 2.0 kinds of things if we think everything we do, down to the WSDL or API, is proprietary and can’t be shared; and we have to learn to talk to each other across organizational and programmatic lines.

The slides tell the story in more detail:

If you don’t want to look at the slides (I probably wouldn’t), the long and the short of it is contained in this thesis:

* Our customer base is tired of the proprietary lock in model. They are beginning to cancel programs that exhibit excessive proprietary hostage taking and they are beginning to explicitly score proposals for open attributes.

Conway’s Law implies that networked / NetCentric “systems of systems” will have to be built by networked communities of practice.

* There is a tipping point looming (timing TBD) when the DoD and its contractor base will flip quickly to a much more open, collaborative, and open-source oriented development paradigm for NetCentric information systems. Cyber Warfare in particular will force a migration to collaborative “permanent Beta” software development.

* If you believe like I do, that this adds up to the looming tipping point, ask yourself, do you want to be the tipper (ala IBM and Apache) or do you want to get tipped on (ala BEA)?

* If you (or your investment targets) decide to be a tipper, what do you do? There are more details in the slides but it boils down to collaboration, communities of practice. Ask anyone on any team in your company these kinds of questions: “do you use or contribute to open source?” When is the last time you talked to one of your counterparts at another company in our industry?” “Do you use a wiki, blog, list serv?” and ask yourself “Can we imagine a post proprietary lock in business model?”

I believe that we have to be the change we want to see in the world. If we want to see our forces able to share information using systems that are readily and effectively interoperable, if we want to see NetCentricity work, we have to become NetCentric to build this stuff.

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