July 2007

"The future is here. It is just not widely distributed yet."

William Gibson

The Talent First Network (TFN) is the publisher of The Open Source Business Report (OSBR). For this reason it is important that we describe what the TFN is about in the inaugural issue of the OSBR. This article first describes the network's mission, launch, and initiatives and then in the last section raises awareness that:

  • in addition to open source software, many other types of assets are being developed by open source projects worldwide
  • thousands of companies and government organizations pay their employees and contractors to contribute to open source projects
  • the use of open source assets is pervasive across product markets in which Ontario companies compete
  • open source assets and the processes that produce them can become powerful competitive tools for companies to appropriate value cooperated with others and reduce the advantages of large companies

Mission

The TFN enables the transfer of: (i) open source technology, (ii) knowledge about how businesses can use open source assets and processes to generate revenue and reduce costs, and (iii) talented students with skills in the commercialization of open source assets from academic institutions to Ontario's companies and open source communities. The TFN benefits from the active participation of: (i) executives of technology companies, (ii) professors and students in engineering, computer science, information technology, science, and business faculties, (iii) directors of open source foundations, (iv) leaders of open source projects and open source groups, and (v) staff of public organizations who support wealth creation through innovation.

Launch

The TFN is a province-wide project launched with the financial support of the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and Carleton University in July 2006. Premier Dalton McGuinty announced 16 awards for the Ontario Research Commercialization Program (ORCP) on July 21, 2006. Of the 16 awards announced, five were to University-led networks that won both components A and B funding. The TFN, a Carleton University-led network, won one of these five awards.

Initiatives

The TFN is organized around four initiatives:

  1. Company affiliates
  2. Lead projects
  3. Knowledge development
  4. Knowledge dissemination

All four initiatives develop the talent pool that Ontario companies need to effectively compete in open environments. The TFN supports innovation by establishing and maintaining the health of an ecosystem of Ontario companies each of which sells products and services that rely on open source for competitive advantage . TFN's company ecosystem is a showcase of how open source assets and processes result in improved innovative performance. To ensure the health of the ecosystem, the TFN provides:

  • talented students
  • low cost, high quality communications infrastructure
  • a newsletter focused on the business issues of open source
  • professional development programs
  • help selling to government departments
  • tools to maintain clean intellectual property
  • links to open source groups, foundations and communities
  • links to professionals who can provide legal services
  • assistance to raise funds
  • assessment of whether or not to release proprietary assets as open source
  • information on opportunities to replace proprietary assets with open source
  • inventories of companies, projects and professors with expertise in open source

Innovation is the key driver of economic prosperity and our provincial and federal governments spend millions of taxpayers' dollars funding self-proclaimed "pre-eminent" research-to-commercialization vehicles across the country. However, when compared to other countries in terms of innovation, Canada rates poorly. For example, the Conference Board of Canada in How Canada Performs, a report released in June 2007, describes Canada's performance in innovation as being stunningly poor. Canada was found to rank 14th out of 17th countries in innovation performance and was rated a D.

While many differences exist between Ontario and the countries that ranked as being the most innovative, one anomaly jumps out immediately. Each of the countries rated highly in terms of innovation performance (i.e ., Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, United States and Finland), has embraced the link between open source and innovation. Ontario has not.

The TFN enables the successful transfer of open source technology to Ontario companies. Many professors and students in Ontario academic institutions contribute to open source projects and set up their own home grown projects. The TFN will ensure that Ontario companies benefit from work carried out in open source by professors and students in Ontario. The TFN is committed to producing leading edge research in open source which is relevant to Ontario companies. For this purpose, the TFN:

  • sponsors graduate students preparing theses and projects in open source
  • assists in the production and dissemination of open source educational resources
  • evolves a high quality, comprehensive open source curriculum
  • promotes joint industry-university research
  • mentors students who enter business competitions with plans based on asset source commercialization
  • organizes competitions to identify opportunities to produce open source related assets and processes with commercialization potential
  • organizes conferences, seminars, showcases, and gate reviews on topics relevant to open source
  • hosts events of interest to open source groups

Change in perspectives

The prevailing perspective is that open source is about software which is developed by geeks who work for free. This is an incorrect perspective of what open source is about and must change. Under the leadership, structure and governance of open source projects, individuals, companies, and organizations produce open source software, integrated circuits, printed circuit boards, standards, platforms, content, scientific knowledge, and workflows. The view that geeks develop open source for free is incomplete. Multinationals such as IBM, Hewlett Packard, Oracle, Intel, Nokia and many other companies as well as government organizations pay their employees and contractors to contribute to open source projects. Open source is not just about software for niche markets. Companies operating in the automotive, airlines, telecommunications, media, education and other industries benefit from the use of open source assets.

Top management teams of Ontario technology companies believe that company interactions with open source projects are about decreasing development costs and shortening time-to-market. This perspective is incomplete. Top management teams are becoming aware that open source assets and processes can become powerful competitive tools for companies to appropriate value co-created with others and reduce the advantages of large multinational companies. When compared to Ontario companies, US companies are larger, have larger home markets, lower financing costs, and greater access to venture capital. Open source offers to reduce the scale and financing advantages US companies have over Ontario companies. Open source is more about a new competitive environment than it is about free software.

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