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eZ Open Funding

eZ Systems lives by the philosophy of "openness" However, we recognize that opening up is a continual process. We know that there are still many parts of the business that are closed, but that could benefit from the openness and cooperation that are the operating principles of other aspects of our business.

One step in the ongoing path to an ever more open eZ ecosystem (consisting of partner companies, the community and eZ Systems employees) will be implemented this summer, when eZ Systems creates the eZ Open Funding infrastructure. This will enable the whole eZ ecosystem to discuss, evaluate and collaborate in creating new functionality for eZ Systems' software products. This implementation is in many ways the embodiment of our core values and philosophy: "Open - Share - Innovate.

As an example, one of our customers needed a content diff function for eZ publish. This functionality would allow users to request an overview of changes between different versions of a content object. The historical time-line would be limited by the number of previous versions available for any given object. The differences between the selected versions would be displayed. This kind of functionality is essential in many quality management systems (QMS) as well as in other related areas.

Given that the eZ publish Roadmap is already fully loaded, this kind of functionality could not be prioritized by our core development team. However, our customer suggested that other members of the eZ ecosystem might need the same functionality and be willing to share the costs of having the project done "on the side" (that is, outside of the main development Roadmap). Within a short space of time, three customers and two partners agreed to provide the required funding and the project was underway. This model of cooperation forms the basis of the eZ Open Funding initiative.

We are currently working on several development projects that are being funded in this manner. Some are ongoing, others are currently in need of funding. Rather than organizing these projects privately, we have decided to open up the process of joint funding and give our partners, customers and community the opportunity to participate. The following sections show the model we are proposing; please feel free to submit comments and suggestions.

When you submit a project to the eZ Open Funding program, an eZ employee will typically be chosen as the main contact and project manager. This member of the eZ crew will handle all technical queries and forum posts related to the project. The submission form will look something like this:

The Open Funding project submission form on www.ez.no.

The new project will be displayed in a list that also shows the status of all projects (some delivered, others still open for funding). A short description for each project is also displayed.

A list of projects open for joint funding.

When you click on the project name, a page with project details is displayed:

This page displays the current status of a specific project, a description of the required functionality, the people who have offered to provide funding and the amount of funding that remains to be covered. The expiry date indicates when the people funding the project require the functionality.

It is important to note that anyone can comment on the project's features and technical details. However, only those committing to fund the project are allowed to decide what functionality will be included and how it will be implemented. This illustrates how Enterprise Open Source as a business model combines community cooperation with market-driven development.

When you press the Help Fund button, a page similar to the following will be displayed:

Contributing funds to an eZ Open Funding project.

Each project usually has both a technical and a financial contact. This ensures that technical people are not encumbered with questions about administration and vice versa. We have also received feedback suggesting that some participants might want to stay anonymous, for example a large corporation who may not want to disclose their involvement in Open Source projects.

The forms shown above are prototypes of the forms that will be implemented on the eZ web site. They may change in response to feedback.

The following questions may help you decide whether the eZ Open Funding initiative is right for you:

  • Have you ever worked with a system that was almost perfect except for one or two missing pieces of technology or functionality?
  • Did you ever decide not to pursue a project because it was too expensive?
  • Are you working on projects that take too much time and use too many resources?
  • Do you lack information about whether other organizations might be interested in what you're developing?
  • Are you sometimes unsure about the amount of risk you are taking on with custom development projects?
  • To sum it up: did you ever miss an opportunity because of lack of funding?

eZ Open Funding could be the solution to these problems.

Since their early days, Free Software and Open Source have been about opening up opportunities. By allowing source code inspection and modification, these models gave developers the means to create their own solutions based on pre-existing infrastructure. Open Source developers do not pay royalties to the owners of the software when they extend an existing solution. In this ideal case, no funding is required; developer time (and possibly hardware infrastructure) is the only cost.

However, not everyone has the technical knowledge required to modify and extend complex and extensive systems like the eZ publish CMS. This is where the service model comes in, and is one of the mechanisms by which Open Source business works: rather than developing in-house expertise, you pay those who have the knowledge to implement a solution you need on top of an Open Source platform. Furthermore, because the solution you funded becomes part of the software system, others profit from your investment, just as you profit from the investment of others.

If your team lacks the knowledge to implement a custom solution, then you are limited by the amount of money you can invest in acquiring the knowledge. Given that, in Open Source software, everyone profits from the investments of others, it is a small step to conclude that joint funding is the solution to overcoming financial limitations and extending solutions to organizations that would otherwise lack the resources to take advantage of new functionality.

During my involvement in the EU's COSI project, I was shown a prognosis on the estimated growth of Open Source development. I was impressed by the predictions of dramatic escalation, just as I am continually surprised by the amazing growth in demand for support and services that I see at eZ Systems. The eZ crew has more than doubled in size in the last year. During the same period, the eZ ecosystem has grown with more than 50 new eZ partners (110 in total) and 6000 new community members (23.000 in total) worldwide.

It seems to be a never-ending cycle of more and more business, and every time we jump to a new activity level I question how we can keep up. But what surprises me even more is that as demand from the marketplace increases, the eZ ecosystem seems to respond with equal force, so that when a user requires new functionality, another partner, community member or eZ employee gets involved with providing the solution.

While this may seem like the traditional economic model of supply and demand, in fact it is an evolutionary enhancement to that model, as it opens up the communication between the buyer and seller, allowing them both to operate in a manner that benefits everyone involved. Instead of determining and communicating requirements through closed processes with incomplete information, buyers and sellers work as teams to design and implement solutions that are the most functional and economical for the most users.

Communities typically openly discuss requirements, with these discussions serving as a catalyst for producing the best solution for the largest segment of the community. Enterprises are typically driven by capital, allowing greater speed of development and implementation. eZ Open Funding combines both, resulting in enterprise-quality Open Source software.


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eZ Open Funding