by Alan Hale (Red Hat)

The following article originally appeared here in the UK and here in Germany.

Who could have predicted the impact on mainstream businesses of data coming in via social media and mobile technology, the escalating importance of trends such as ‘big data’ or the move towards cloud computing that is now gathering momentum?

The sources of data coming into the enterprise IT infrastructure are proliferating, with new channels and touch-points constantly emerging at an unprecedented rate. Clearly, in an uncertain world, flexibility is a critical component of any business IT strategy.

With today’s customers choosing to interact through multiple channels, businesses are wasting time and budget ‘hand-carrying’ information from application to application, frequently without adding value at best and introducing human error at worst.

Most organisations today don’t lack data; they lack information. Take your average UK bank with a high-street presence. Any one of thousands of customers might choose to interact by phone, post or email, online or in branch at different times. They might have a query about interest rates, request a loan application or ask about remortgaging. If there is someone manually transferring all the data related to this customer that is coming in through different channels, then the bank is wasting an enormous amount of resources. There’s bound to be a time-lag, between data being captured in one part of the organisation and becoming available elsewhere. The result is a lack of joined-up corporate thinking that leads to slow, patchy decision-making and mounting customer frustration.

In contrast, enterprises that are both intelligent and integrated are eliminating unnecessary labour, removing bottlenecks and ensuring a high quality response to every business event. Business rules consistently applied across the organisation improve and automate decision-making, while manual effort is removed. Resources are freed to focus on handling the exceptions and high value transactions that genuinely require their skills.

A different approach through open source

In the past, reliance on proprietary software has meant that developing and maintaining the IT architecture that underlies the intelligent, integrated enterprise has been both complex and expensive. This has made it the preserve of corporations with substantial IT budgets and IT teams. Even these organisations have struggled to implement a genuinely holistic approach, and have often settled for picking the low-hanging fruit, thereby missing out on the opportunities that true integration generates.

Now, open source technology brings the intelligent, integrated enterprise within the reach of mid-tier businesses, by offering straightforward building blocks such as the following.

A readily available open source enterprise data services platform can unify data from multiple sources into trusted, accurate, accountable information assets. The return on data assets is maximised by being able to easily reuse existing data in new applications and business processes.

An open source business rules management system will allow organisations to develop, automate, review, audit and modify business rules so that applications can invoke predefined decision logic. This ensures that every operation from a simple transaction to a complex business event is handled efficiently, consistently and correctly.

Open source business process management and automation means organisations never have to reinvent the wheel, as replicable business process can be identified, standardised and automated.

These and other solutions can be configured to create the intelligent, integrated enterprise, are affordable and come with open source licensing and a subscription purchase model. Red Hat customers, for example, pay a yearly subscription for a certified platform with professional support with high levels of support available within an hour 24x7, rather than paying to use the software. Certification of elements such as Java Virtual Machine, platform and database configurations is included with the subscription, which reduces risk and saves time and money.

In the event of dissatisfaction with the product or support, customers have the freedom to ‘walk’ without incurring high exit costs. This completely changes the customer-supplier dynamic. Proprietary software vendors can view licence fees as a ‘licence to print money’, knowing that inertia will keep many customers locked into their products. It’s a model of doing business that’s guaranteed to keep any vendor on their toes!

Freedom to innovate

Businesses operate against a dramatically changing backdrop and any enterprise today must be adaptable and agile. New technology trends are surfacing all the time: social media is now a source of customer data in mainstream businesses; storing data assets in the cloud has become a reality and these need to be integrated with on-premise assets; while accessing data on the move through mobile technology has taken off in an unprecedented way.

Here again, open source has advantages over proprietary software. An intelligent, integrated enterprise built on open source technology has the flexibility to support an evolutionary approach. Open source provides an adaptable platform, ready for whatever advances lie ahead in terms of capturing, storing and accessing enterprise data. It leaves the organisation free to adopt emerging technology to match new requirements and integrate new applications, while protecting previous infrastructure investments.

Security built in

‘Open’ does not equate to ‘exposed’ and sharing data across an organisation has to be done on a need-to-know basis, with users being authorised to view only certain data and with the business being able to monitor who is accessing data at all times. Red Hat and JBoss middleware solutions are accredited to operate in some of the world’s most exacting, security-driven environments.

The advantages of collaboration

In Red Hat’s case, by the time our software is released, it will have been put through its paces by the worldwide open source community. Any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the software are quickly identified and eradicated during the development process. It will also have been battle-hardened through an intensive, rigorous testing and certification process. There is a significant contrast between the open source philosophy of world-wide collaboration and the small teams typically engaged in developing on proprietary software.

For those organisations that have already adopted open source solutions, using Red Hat software offers the best of both worlds: software developed by a vibrant open source community, backed by enterprise-class testing, certification, documentation, training and support.