November 22, 2005

The Middleman Model

One less-gloomy bit of information that came out of those hearings on the Open Document format was that there were apparently (I'm relaying this second-hand, I was not there) several state government personnel from outside Massachusetts who were keeping a close eye on the proceedings. Why? At least three of them told my colleague that they had budget to spend on open source alternatives in software - but had no really effective way of doing so. They knew they could implement more robust and maintainable systems with their budget, but the machinery of government procurement makes that impossible - pretty much the only way to get money spent by a government is either to an approved vendor or by hiring. You could hire open source coders, but what hacker really wants to work for a state government? What 'approved vendor' can actually build you a relatively custom open-source solution without utilizing extremely high-paid consultants?

Enter the Middleman model. I'm not saying that Novell has been necessarily any good at doing this, but it sure has been trying. Why doesn't Novell, as a known software vendor with Open Source ties, offer to step in? If government departments have budget for open source solutions for which coding needs to be done, Novell could offer to employ open source hackers to work on those projects. The fruits of their labor would need to be openly available (great!) but Novell could provide a salary/benefits model to organizing open source hackers. Either we could find existing employees who have experience in the product space to work on the project, or we could offer to support community developers using the money from the government budget - but paid to a 'real vendor' and buying 'real work.' It's not quite consulting - Novell could offer what support it can to the organization and ongoing management of an open source project. This could be a professional project manager, web space, hosting, bandwidth, and of course the aforementioned framework for compensation in order to guarantee a minimum amount of 'hours worked.'

If the open source project didn't go far enough in customizing the solution, or if no project workers could be found who were interested in working on the code in the manner the client needed, then Novell could simply task its own coders to work on the product. Again, this is a strange hybrid of consulting and middleman - the key feature being that the resulting product would be open source and re-usable.

Of course, from Novell's point of view, it would make sense to ensure that there was a supported and stable build of whatever solution on a Novell platform - OES or SUSE - which could be sold to the client agency if they desired. At the very least, support could be offered on a contract basis.

The point is that there seems to be money out there which is looking to be spent. That's what I understand a business is supposed to look for.

Posted by jbz at November 22, 2005 9:53 PM | TrackBack

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