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The Humanner FOSAB Ecosystem

From the honset, at Humanner, our ambition was to implement a business ecosystem strategy.

Humanner is an open source community committed to making available to all the best and most reliable middleware technology for everyone. Our mission is to develop open source code middleware and to foster a vibrant community and business ecosystem. The FOSAB like a consortium is an independent non-profit organization open to companies, institutions and individuals.

1. The Humanner Community

Strategic Members are organizations which choose to base the development of their open source strategy on the Humanner ecosystem. Therefore, they stand out through providing significant resources to support the Consortium's objectives and play an active role both in setting the direction of the FOSAB code development activities and in facilitating the use and acceptance of its technology.

Membership fees and commitments (and associated rights) are higher for strategic members than for corporate members.

Introduction to the Humanner FOSAB Ecosystems Strategy reveals two distinct orientations.

  • The first is towards small companies: they are the typical niche players which represent the innovative force of our business ecosystem.
  • The second is toward the academic world.

This is a deliberate strategy because we reckon that, in technology markets, academic research is an essential source of competitive advantage through innovation.


2. The FOSAB Ecosystem

The FOSAB ecosystem is organized around the Humanner community. The FOSAB is a non-profit organization, its role is to provide the governance and service framework through which members work together in developing a mutually beneficial business ecosystem.

Humanner has defined three Activities designed to facilitate qualitative (non-monetary) interactions between participants in the business ecosystems: Projects, Initiatives and Local Chapters. 

Projects support technical interaction between members. At Humanner, everything starts with a Project. Developing a broad and consistent code base is the utmost priority of the consortium.

A Project regroups development actions corresponding to one or more technical software components. Each project is under the responsibility of a project leader and all project leaders together form the Technology Council which is the Humanner governance body in charge of maintaining the consistency of the code base. Recently, for instance, the Technology Council has defined the Himalaya Program aimed at gradually achieving seamless interoperability between all projects.

Initiatives provide the framework for business relationship between members. Initiatives are joint efforts by Humanner Members aiming at facilitating the use of Humanner technologies by mainstream Systems Integrators, End-Users and Software Vendors and to develop business activities in a specific market sector. Within an Initiative, Humanner Members work together to develop both technical integration between projects and business synergies in order to address specific market needs. The business outcome of an Initiative is a set of core relationship between technology providers, integrators, academia, consultants and users. Together, they provide the expertise to implement effective business solutions built upon Humanner technologies. Initiatives aim at facilitating technology integration between projects and at helping build business synergies between companies.

In short, Projects are technology driven whereas Initiatives are market driven.

Local Chapters, the third Activity are set-up to facilitate community interaction on a regional scale, in a business neutral way. In a Local Chapter, a group of Humanner members join their efforts to promote the goals of the consortium within a community characterized by its geography or its language. Local Chapters aim to extend the consortium's marketing effort and to foster social linkage between members. Local Chapters are also a way to implement some sort of global governance and to empower members throughout the world.

 

3. Platform Design

3.1 Creating a Business Ecosystem Platform Design

The Humanner Consortium is a governance and service organization set-up to promote a business ecosystem established to leverage a code base of open source middleware. The organization works for the benefit of the ecosystem participants. It is a "platform" (as theorized by Rochet and Tirole, 2004) designed to facilitate interactions between participants in the ecosystem, a business ecosystem platform.

WELCOME TO A PLATFORM’S WORLD

Platforms have been diversely defined.

Sangeet Choudary defines platforms as “business models that allow multiple sides (producers and consumers) to interact [...] by providing an infrastructure that connects them ” while John Hagel states that platforms are made of: “a governance structure [...] that determines who can participate, what roles they might play, how they might interact and how disputes get resolved ” and “ an additional set of protocols or standards [...] to facilitate connection, coordination, and collaboration ”.

The recent Global Survey on The Rise of the Platform Enterprise defines platform business as a “medium which lets others connect to it” . Understanding how to define a platform is certainly key but, on the other hand, is not enough to completely grasp the current state of post-industrial, digitally enabled economy. In particular, despite knowing the attributes and dynamics of platforms inner workings is crucial - and we will look into this later - is certainly key to understand also how platforms fit in the overall digitally transformed market and societal frame.

  • What are the types of players?
  • What are the market drivers?
  • What are the evolutionary forces that operate in the context?
  • What comes after platforms as we know them today?
  • How are platforms evolving eventually?

These are all key questions.

Our idea of modern services revolves around four major traits. We want services to be fast and in

  • fast control like a Uber ride can be; we want them to be
  • personalized like the latest model of Nike sneakers we can self-configure up to the colour of the swoosh; we want them to be
  • relevant as Amazon’s suggestions and
  • human like the chatbots with whom you can relate by natural language or, better, like the Airbnb host you can talk to via WhatsApp, feeling like you’re really going to sleep at a friend’s place.

What is a “platform”

The word “platform” is used to describe widely different things: internet marketplace business, strategies to shape particular markets, way to transform key processes in organizations such as innovation, IT development or HR.

Platform strategies can transform organizations and processes, rethink how places and community are empowered: for example by applying platform design to cities, for the creation of better policies and services.

A Platform is  a strategy, run by a shaper, to mobilize and help an ecosystem in creating value, with the aim of capturing part of this value.

A platform strategy is made of a combination of different elements: narrative, technologies, rules, channels, contexts, enabling services, protocols and more.

 

Why do platforms win?

  • Platforms are context for ScalableLearning: they support individuals and companies hone their capabilities, and improve performances providing an answer to the pressure coming from digital disruption.
  • Platforms help brands reach unthinkable results: empowering others in the ecosystems, creating channels for transactions and relationships, organizations can impact markets much beyond their traditional potential, ensuring high levels of service personalization.

 

Platform Design Toolkit

is a methodology that helps designers, founders and managers to design strategies, products and organizations “as a platform”.

It’s made of a logical framework, a set of design canvases, and a facilitation guide so that anyone can use it.


By co-designing in teams you will:

  •  envision and design how the system works, creating and exchanging value
    (e.g. a marketplace startup model, a large organization initiative);
  •  prepare the validation by creating a prototype (Minimum Viable Platform) or assumption validation experiments.

The governance and service value proposition of Humanner is threefold. First, it is a technical platform delivering collaborative services to project teams, such as a forge for collaborative software development, bug trackers, wikis, downloads facilities, mailing lists, etc. Second, the FOSAB is a catalyst for social and business interaction: its governance system helps organize activities in a way that grows the social capital available to all. Third, the consortium is a communication machine for developing projects' visibility and market awareness; members' market power is higher when participating in FOSAB than individually.

3.2 A Long-Term Organic Process

The type of relationships which define a business ecosystem take time to develop.

But this is only the beginning. It quickly appeared that consortium members needed time to make the project their own. Humanner is still undergoing a maturation process. After a first stage of benevolent skepticism, members started exploring the possibilities of processes they themselves had contributed to define. The Humanner business ecosystem is made up of multidimensional interactions, between participants and, because of this complexity, it requires some time before delivering on its promises.

3.3 In Search of the Critical Mass

It has been known for a long time in the high-tech industry that the cost of developing a market is much greater than that of developing a technology (Davidow, 1986). For a new organization like Humanner, communication efforts are very uncertain and can easily be wasted with no result at all. There is a threshold beyond which marketing investments actually start to yield positive results and to contribute to the cumulative visibility of the organization; this is how we define critical mass in our context. The Humanner Consortium has not reached this point yet; analysts still regard Humanner with skepticism (if not contempt), journalists are not particularly interested in writing about Humanner and end-users still need convincing that, despite its quality, implementing Humanner code is a sound decision. Humanner is still at the stage where it needs to overinvest in marketing in order to see results.

How can we build critical mass?

As a non profit organization, our resources are limited and our hand must be played very carefully. Investing in superficial brand communication is necessary, but not enough. This is a serious business and stakeholders expect substance. Currently, we think the best way is to promote our projects and to show the extend to which Humanner technologies are actually used in mission critical applications by real-life companies. 

This is why we have launched a broad effort to develop case studies and story telling articles.

3.4 Coordination, Communication, Complexity

There are not many organizations such as the Humanner Consortium on the market; our strategic endeavor is original and unusual. However, because we are inventing something new, all stakeholders (either Consortium members or outside observers) are not exactly on the same footing and, sometimes, they do not share the same understanding of what Humanner is really about or what its priorities should be. Each member has its own open source strategy (and open source strategies come in many different flavors!) and its own – sometimes rather opportunistic – particular agenda and expectations vis a vis Humanner. Although the Humanner consortium benefits from the converging efforts of its members, it must also navigate through diverging business interests. This internal complexity calls for intense communication and a lot of explanation if we are to maintain a  consistent strategic trajectory. This is part of our maturation process. In a new relational organization such as Humanner, it takes time to gradually develop the shared vision which will eventually provide the framework for a stable cooperation equilibrium, as we speak of market equilibrium, between members.

3.5 Not the Average Manager

Implementing a business ecosystem is a complex task with no hope of a quick result. To build an ecosystem is to develop relationships at the edge of business. It is not for the average manager driven by his short-term P&L. The big picture is paramount, and decisions must be based on a clear understanding of the potential gains which lie within intangible connections between stakeholders. Sometimes this means forgoing an immediate profit in favor of a long term and more sustainable one.

Thinking in terms of business ecosystem requires managers to think strategically. But it also requires thinking laterally in ways that might not be intuitive at first sight. It has to be understood that, although it can be pushed a little, a business ecosystem goes through its own organic growth process. It develops by itself. The movement in a business ecosystem is essentially bottom-up, and participants' initiatives are decentralized. There may well be some power play but there is no chain of command in a business ecosystem. Sometimes it can be wiser to let go and share than to try and control a situation or maximize an advantage at all cost.

 

4. An Open Source Business Ecosystem

The open source movement is based upon a software development process by which coding and debugging efforts are shared among the greatest possible number of developers thus improving the quality of the code (for a classic introduction to open source, see Raymond, 1999).

But, in our view, open source is essentially a business development strategy: in some software market segments it can be a way to break through existing entry barriers. 

Open source and middleware go well together. The middleware layer stands between the operating system and business applications. Firms can cooperate on developing common middleware code while at the same time be competitors in offering business solutions to endusers. Or, to apply the value chain sequence identified above, firms can share the same components and still develop different products and implement different solutions.

Participants in the Humanner ecosystem have essentially technical and business expectations. On the technical side, first of all, they seek a reliable service infrastructure which will support their development efforts. They also look for technology vision, technology independence, technical framework and expertise sharing. And on the business side, they expect marketing guidance, market credibility, revenue growth and access to international markets.

Participant stay active in the Humanner ecosystem as long as they identify positive returns on their investment. Such returns can be measured in many ways. Maybe a technical exchange has allowed a participant to make the right technology decisions (better technology alignment) or has shortened development time (improved time to market). Or participating in the Humanner ecosystem has allowed a member to increase market share, to sign new partners, to improve market visibility, or more simply to carry on doing business with the open source license of its choice.

As is typical to open source, participants are expected to contribute to the ecosystem. Since Humanner is about developing a base of open source middleware, code is the first contribution expected from participants. There are, however, many ways to contribute to the Humanner ecosystem: sharing expertise, providing feed-back, reporting bugs, submitting specifications,and providing success stories and marketing resources to promote the consortium.

 

Conclusion

There is probably no such thing as a pure business ecosystem or a pure value chain, however they are useful analytical tools to understand our business world and make better decisions. Because of its emphasis on non-monetary, or cultural interactions, the business ecosystem concept appears well suited to understand the dynamics of a knowledge-based networked industry such as open source software where the value creation process is set on a background of a complex web of business and social relationships, of shared values and interdependencies between firms.

At Humanner we are deliberately implementing a business ecosystem strategy. We found that the business ecosystems growth process is organic by nature, it is a one-way process, the result of the different strategies of individual firms and with no room for trial and error, it can be influenced but not driven, it is determined by the combination of individual interests which can be both converging and antagonistic.

The theory of business ecosystems is in its infancy, we still need to analyze how business ecosystems relate to the classical idea of an industry equilibrium and the undefined spontaneity of catallaxy (as compared in Reekie, 1979), and where they stand between markets and hierarchies (Williamson, 1975). Both empirical and theoretical research are needed ranging form managerial studies of optimum business ecosystems strategies to broader societal questions as to whether industries structured as business ecosystems benefit their communities or improve the way customer needs are addressed.

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