August 8, 2007

OSA pushes interoperability with Common Customer View

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Open Solutions Alliance (OSA) pushed out a prototype application at LinuxWorld yesterday to demonstrate interoperability between open source applications. The Common Customer View (CCV) prototype integrates data between open source products from JapserSoft, Centric CRM, Adaptive Planning, Talend, and other OSA members, and includes a new single sign-on (SSO) piece contributed by SpikeSource and released under the Open Source License (OSL).

The CCV is a prototype that put OSA recommendations into practice, so OSA members (and others) can evaluate OSA proposals with working code.

Dominic Sartorio, director of project management for SpikeSource and president of the OSA board, says that interoperability is a "significant barrier to adoption" of open source. He says that customers are looking for solutions, rather than a single open source application. A customer may need a content management system, customer relations management application, monitoring application, and many other apps to build a single solution that meets the organization's business needs. While plenty of high-quality open source applications exist for all of those tasks, they may not interoperate well. Customer data may exist in more than one application, users might have to maintain multiple sign-ons for different apps, and so forth. A business might have to spend a lot of money to get the applications to talk to one another, thereby negating the initial cost advantage of open source.

Sartorio says that projects like the CCV make it easier to come up with best practices for OSA members to use. By working together on projects like the CCV, members can determine best practices by actually doing the work. After that, Sartorio says, "once there's a collective sense of what direction to go, then it's a lot easier to drive its adoption."

Barry Klawans, CTO at JasperSoft and OSA interoperability chair, says this prototype pulls together enterprise resource planning, customer resource management, budgeting, and more -- all sharing the same data.

Not only do the applications now share the same data, but updates are reflected in real time. Klawans says that when a change to customer data is made in one application, it will immediately be reflected in other applications -- something that has been missing between open source applications in the past.

Klawans notes that this is just a prototype, though he says "you could deploy it if you wanted to," but "the catch is, because it's still a learning experience, we haven't codified the practices" of sharing data between systems. If an organization wanted to deploy a different analytic or CRM system, "it would be difficult."

The CCV isn't entirely finished, either. One of the missing pieces, though described in the planning document as "nice to have," is a common look and feel for all applications. Sartorio says that was something that the group didn't have time to get done before releasing the prototype.

In the future, Klawans says that the OSA wants to make it easier "for others to plug in" to the CCV, so that customers could swap out one type of application for another.

What about collaborating with other groups, such as the Linux Foundation? Klawans says that there hasn't been "a lot of formal collaboration" because the two groups are focused on different parts of the problem. While the Linux Foundation, through the Linux Standard Base (LSB), is focused on standards that ensure various applications work across all Linux distros, the OSA is focused on making those applications work together. "They're trying to solve half the problem, we're trying to solve half the problem."

Klawans also pointed out that the OSA is looking beyond Linux, and is interested in making sure open source apps work together on Windows as well. While open source apps are typically deployed on Linux, Klawans says that users often have their first experience on Windows, where they download and test applications.

What comes after the launch of the CCV? Klawans says that we should "expect a whole flurry of projects being launched on the interoperability forums." Right now, the OSA lists five interoperability proposals, including single sign-on for Web applications, management and monitoring, data integration standards, and a common search proposal.


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