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Why openness drives innovation

By Lauren States, vice president, CTO, IBM Corporate Strategy, special to Network World
April 23, 2013 12:54 PM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

Figuring out the next big thing in technology is something a lot of us are tasked to do, and it becomes even more challenging when predicting what will succeed long term. But one attribute that stands out as giving a new technology a leg-up is using open technologies for a creative freedom to spur innovation.

Open source isn't a new concept today, but it has gained momentum over the past few decades and is now a feverishly growing trend for businesses in all industries. Twenty-two years ago Linux was just a little kernel of open source software and today it is the ubiquitous operating system running in smartphones, tablets and cars -- let alone nearly all of today's 500 fastest supercomputers. Its impact is so pervasive that most of us hardly notice Linux has become a platform for innovation that spans the globe.

[ IN PICTURES: A visual history of Linux ]

Recognizing the innovative potential with being open, the topic of cloud computing open standards has been on the rise. In fact, Booz & Company recently warned that without a more concerted effort to agree on open cloud standards, and leadership on the part of major companies, the promise of cloud computing may never be reached.

The good news is we have seen a rapid growth in support of this area. Less than two years ago, the Cloud Standards Customer Council was launched to address the challenges and requirements of using an open cloud. Initially supported by 50 members including Lockheed Martin, Citigroup and North Carolina State University -- today, the Council also has more than 400 members.

With businesses around the world pursuing disruptive innovation through open technologies, the future will present unlimited opportunities. But what about 'open' makes all this global innovation possible?

The benefits of an open culture

The culture of open is one that allows the best of crowdsourcing to build a foundation for further customization.

We have seen that open standards will triumph over proprietary approaches because history tells us that where there's openness and collaboration without fear of vendor or ecosystem lock-in, business challenges are addressed and innovation thrives.

[ TECH ARGUMENT: Open source vs. proprietary software ]

Whether it's the latest and greatest Android app built on Linux or a cloud computing solution that allows a client to work across multiple vendors, open standards mean the market can come to bear and businesses can focus on delivering value without the burden of proprietary computing.

Open standards act as a blueprint or insurance policy that allow a variety of industries such as healthcare, financial services, automotive, retail, energy and others to link up and share information faster, easier and at lower costs. That's true cross-industry collaboration and the power of interoperability -- providing businesses choice and the ability to deliver better goods, services and intelligent data that a closed, proprietary approach can't offer.

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