Sirius CTO: UK businesses must start tapping SME talent
Businesses can save money and implement solutions faster by working with SMEs and using open source technology, says Andrew Savory
Mobile industry needs an open source OS
Savory's background in open source mobile development has instilled him with some pretty strong views about the mobile industry – particularly with regard to Google's mobile operating system Android. According to Savory, while Android may be open source in definition, it is not run in a way that allows companies to develop openly.
“All of the interesting development is going on behind closed doors and we only hear about it when they announce it,” he says. “It's a legitimate way to run a platform but let's not call it a proper open source project.”
Savory asserts that, while the Android platform is an excellent tool for market disruption, it is useless in terms of generating revenue for Google. He explains the reason that companies like Apple and Amazon are so successful is because of the ecosystems they have built around their products. By offering content like movies, books, apps and music, they are able to capture their audience and persuade them to buy more devices.
“It's a virtuous circle,” he says. “The more content they have, the more hardware they sell. The more hardware they sell, the more app developers they get, and so on. That is why Amazon has launched the Kindle Fire. It's a really smart step to get people into buying movies and music more through Amazon.
“They're capturing credit cards and capturing customers and finding ways to sell more to them. I think Amazon and Apple are probably going to be the ones that really succeed in this, because none of the handset manufacturers other than Apple are making any money out of selling these devices. They're all struggling to find the magic recipe.”
He says that Android is really about getting more customers for Google's marketing business, and also helping Google's stated objective of indexing the world's information – which is increasingly found on smartphones. However, while Google is a successful company in many ways, it has so far failed to create the kind of ecosystem that Apple and Amazon thrive on.
“This is why it's crucial that you have an open source mobile platform, because then you don't have to worry about it and invest in it. It's an open project, everyone can develop there,” he says. “What you can then do as a mobile company is innovate in user interface and user experience, and deliver a really slick service. But everybody's struggling to do it.”
Giving end users back control
In his new role at Sirius, Savory will be providing support for customers running open source software systems in industries such as education, manufacturing, aviation and utilities, and helping other companies that aren't using open source to understand the benefits.
“More and more enterprises these days are rolling out open source alternatives to corporate information systems,” he says. “One of the best examples is the move from Oracle to databases like Postgres and MySQL. The traditional view is you buy something like Oracle, you pay a huge amount in licence fees, and you've got support from Oracle if anything goes wrong. In practice, of course, this never works.
“The interesting thing about Sirius is they're the first company in the UK that I'm aware of that are offering 24/7 support for open source software. It might just be your mail server, but it's also really technical stuff like Postgres. It's great that companies now have someone that they can phone up and say we need 24/7 support, and they have someone at the end of the line that can help them out.”
Savory says that, while previously the role of the CTO was to be the gatekeeper of software purchasing and licensing, the real challenge now is understanding where the costs are – that is, the cost of staff time in deploying, managing and supporting the software.
“I actually think the CTO of today has got a really hard job on their hands, because they do need to be able to focus on the business side of things, but they're also looking at various options for deployment, so they need to be conversant in a far wider range of software,” he says.
“Five or 10 years ago you might have had to roll out a Microsoft Windows network and Microsoft Office – two programs, easy. Now you might also have a mail server or a file server that's running open source, so you need to be familiar with a much broader range of platforms and software packages. You could basically spend more than a full-time job just researching all of your options.
“I'd love to say that the move to open source and free software means that we can slash all our IT budgets, but it actually means we've got to reallocate the way we spend it and work a little bit smarter,” he adds.
Despite this, the recession and the subsequent attention to budgets has been a really good thing for open source, according to Savory. People have been forced to think outside the box and question whether they really need to roll out Microsoft Office, or whether an open source cloud solution might do the job just as well.
While open source software is not necessarily free – there are still support costs – it does give organisations back control of their IT systems. For example, they are free to change the software whenever they want, modify it and distribute those changes to anyone else that wants to use it. They are also in charge of deciding when to roll out new software, rather than being locked into a refresh cycle dictated by a vendor that doesn't understand their business needs.
“The traditional proprietary software customer-vendor relationship is a little bit twisted,” says Savory. “In almost every other walk of life, the customer is always right, because they're the ones paying the money. With proprietary software it seems like it's the software companies that are dictating what the customer has to do, which is really weird. I find it baffling that companies will put up with that.”