November 18, 2005

Akiva turns to open source software

Author: Tina Gasperson

Software development company Akiva has been around since 1999, creating proprietary collaboration software for companies that rely on instant messaging, video conferencing, and email to create an idea-sharing atmosphere for employees. But after prompting from some of its largest customers, such as Cisco, Qualcomm, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Akiva began to discover the value of open source. Now, the company is so sure that open source software is the future of IT, it is 100% committed to developing and using open collaboration software and nurturing a community around it."We're customer-driven," says Eric Olinger, CEO of Akiva, "and a growing number of our clients started coming to us, asking us to integrate at least pieces of open source into what we were doing with them." Olinger says it is not an issue of cost as much as it is an issue of "innovation and openness." He says Cisco in particular was "very instrumental. They told us that despite the fact they were happy with our proprietary products, they were in the process of consolidating vendor relationships which would eliminate us as a vendor," unless Akiva came up with an open source solution. "And we kept finding more requirements for solutions and platforms available in open source as part of our solutions, rather than proprietary software."

Olinger didn't want his company just "grabbing technologies" from the open source community, so he decided to immerse Akiva in open source. "It's been a focus to build expertise there," he says. "It helps us build more knowledge by participating in [the community]. We have become very 'open' to open source."

So open that the company completely reworked its proprietary collaboration software and in June released it as Silk, an open source collaboration platform that "competes functionally" with Microsoft's Sharepoint and IBM's WorkPlace. Silk is available under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) or under a more restrictive commercial license that provides additional company support.

While it is no surprise that Akiva is using open source development tools as it continues to work on Silk, the company is also beginning to employ open source in the infrastructure. It has adopted PBX Asterisk for its telephony system and is considering a move to SugarCRM for its customer management and accounting. "There have been measurable reductions in cost due to the use of [these] tools," Olinger says. "Training costs and implementation time have been slightly longer than with some of the proprietary solutions we have used in the past, but we believe open source has given us greater flexibility and allowed us to make use of features we probably would not have been able to cost-justify with proprietary solutions."

As another part of Akiva's new strategy of open source immersion, in August, Olinger announced the Open Collaboration Forum (OCF). Olinger hopes the OCF will help Akiva and its customers understand the philosophy and economy of open source software by encouraging discussions between senior-level executives from many different companies, and providing learning opportunities in the form of Web-casted presentations like the one held on last month and hosted by open source expert Bernard Golden, author of
"Succeeding with Open Source".

"Sometimes it is best to focus on trying to understand the real needs and what the opportunities are and do something small, see if people accept it," Olinger says. "OCF came as an idea from several of our customers who said, 'can't you help us connect with other customers at a higher level in the management structure?' That idea ruminated for a couple of months and eventually became OCF."

Membership in the OCF is by invitation only, says Olinger, but the organization accepts queries from interested parties. "Our goal was to collect a couple of hundred IT professionals and a few experts and consultants around that group -- and it's not a replacement for an open developer discussion group." Olinger says the initial response has far exceeded those goals. "In a way that makes you think there's a fundamental need and opportunity. The challenge is to measure what kind of resources to pour into these activities as opposed to other things that bring a direct revenue return -- but in the past we've been able to navigate that. You do the right thing first and then you figure out how to make business value out of that."

Category:

  • Open Source
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