Asian firms must embrace 'open innovation' to remain competitive

Open source concept is becoming "de factor way of innovating", where businesses in Asia should embrace open collaboration and share ideas to gain agility and speed, say Red Hat executives.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO, USA--Businesses in Asia should embrace the "open source way of innovating" to gain agility and speed, and ensure they are delivering services that their customers want.

That was the key message delegates should take away from the Red Hat Summit here this week, said Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen, Red Hat's Asia-Pacific senior vice president and general manager, who underscored the need for a collaborative platform and apply the concepts of open source to the world's markets,.

Speaking to ZDNet at the summit, van Leeuwen said the notion of sharing ideas and collaborating, instead of closing down and locking patents, was becoming pervasive and creating the "social fabric" for future development.

"Open source isn't a company or a product. It's a way of innovating and collaborating," he said. "It's so much more than being an open source company. We really leverage a huge community outside of ourselves to make sure what is being built in the market is what the customers need and what consumers want. The speed of innovation, as a result, is what we're seeing now."

During his keynote at the summit, Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst had urged the need for industry participation and collaboration, especially in an digital era where organisations could no longer solve problems in silos.

In artificial intelligence and machine learning, for instance, businesses as well as individuals were realising that sharing access to data would facilitate collective efforts in identifying solutions to complex problems, such as medical diseases. Tech vendors such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft had opened up their machine learning and artificial intelligence engines, offering open access to developers, Whitehurst noted, adding that these companies now recognised there was more value in opening up ecosystems rather than locking them up.

He stressed that this was different from crowdsourcing, which was about gathering ideas from the masses and then picking the best from the lot. Open innovation, instead, was about galvanising people to contribute and collectively help improve ideas.

This, he said, had been Red Hat's core philosophy and goal to be the catalyst within communities of customers, contributors, and partners, to create better technologies through the open source model.

"Our ability to harness and distill the best ideas will determine human progress in the next century," Whitehurst said, but noted that this would require willingness from leadership and management teams to relinquish control. "Building capability for communities to innovate beyond the sum of their individual members is the leadership challenge of our time."

Asked if companies in Asia remained resistant to the idea of open collaboration over fears of losing their competitive advantage, van Leeuwen said this was true even for organisations in the US and Europe. "People don't like to share their intellectual property," he said. "But, open source brings transparency in a world where there has been questions about trust, and distrust. Having an open source platform, and being able to see exactly what you're buying and what it looks like, this is being recognised in Asia as a great advantage."

The China government, for instance, had removed products from American tech companies including IBM and Cisco Systems from its central procurement list over security concerns, since they were unable to view the codes inside these products.

In this aspect, he said, open source would offer complete transparency.

Damien Wong, Red Hat's Asean vice president and general manager, added that open innovation was "the de facto way of innovating". "Those that don't do open source will be left behind," Wong said.

According to stats from Black Duck Software's Future of Open Source Survey, 78 percent of organisations last year said they ran operations on open source, with 65 percent contributing to open source projects.

van Leeuwen said: "The entire adoption of internet and disruption of digital transformation is purely based on open source [model]. It's only because everyone has access to other people's ideas, software, and technology, and can build on this very rapidly and much faster than in the past when everything was closed, this is driving the speed of innovation associated with things like IoT (Internet of Things) and cloud."

According to Matthew Cheung, Gartner's research director for technology and service provider research, Whitehurst's call for more participation from the community to contribute and innovate, was aligned with the overall open source movement and belief that community support would fuel the growth of open source in general.

Red Hat had grown from just an open source project to supporting mission-critical workloads and enterprise-ready applications, noted Cheung, who attended the summit this week. This, he added, was a significant achievement also for the wider Linux community. Based in Singapore, the analyst specialises in operating systems, virtualisation, IT operations management software as well as open source software and OpenStack.

He added that governments in Asia-Pacific, including China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, also were promoting more open source adoption and nurturing local talents in this space.

The Gartner analyst noted, though, that Red Hat would need to address some key challenges in the region to ensure increasing adoption of open source software. He pointed to the lack of education about its benefits, noting that certification programmes and courses were only just starting to take off.

In addition, open source talents and skillsets were scarce in the region, he said. "There's also a lack of enterprise open source software governance practice and policy, which can drive more uniformity of open source adoption," Cheung noted.

van Leeuwen said while such observations might be true for some markets, he noted that the region was not homogeneous. Several universities and training institutions already offered open source courses and certification. More importantly, Asia currently was home to the largest number of Red Hat certified professionals, he said.

Wong added that the level of awareness and expertise varied across segments within the open source stack where infrastructure software, for instance, was fairly well understood in the region. Higher up the stack where technologies involved were still emerging, he acknowledged that there was likely less clarity in terms of governance and standardisation.

He said Red Hat would provide the necessary certification, for example, in OpenStack for professionals who need to configure and deploy on the technology. The vendor also had been investing efforts to make such platforms easier to deploy and manage, such as by building more automation, he added.

Cheung further noted that recent security issues involving open source software were a cause of concern for governments and organisations in Asia, he noted, pointing to OpenSSL and Heartbleed.

In response, van Leeuwen said the complete transparency of open source allowed for such vulnerabilities to be quickly identified and patched. This would have been different for proprietary software such as Microsoft, where organisations might not even know whether there were security vulnerabilities in their software and if these had been fixed.

According to the Red Hat executives, while Asia was its smallest region, accounting for 13 percent of the company's overall revenue, it was the fastest growing, clocking 24 percent growth in the fourth quarter.

van Leeuwen said this reflected untapped opportunities in region, pointing to plans to open up new offices in more markets, predominantly, in Asean where it had yet to establish direct presence. He added that he was looking to beef up headcount in the region to meet growing customer demand, particularly in the areas of architecting.

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