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Is "Openness" a Virtue?
There are four Cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.
There are also theological virtues, capital virtues, and Roman virtues (both public and private).
I've heard that cleanliness is a virtue, even though it does not appear on any of aforementioned lists—but here's a question: Is "openness" a virtue for communication and collaboration solutions?
According to the marketing materials and web sites, it appears every communication vendor is open and almost every solution claims to be built on open standards.
Based on a few Google searches, we can see that "openness" and "open standards" are frequently included in descriptive text:
From these results it seems that both Cisco and Microsoft especially like to write about "openness" and "open standards".
But what is "openness" anyway?
Let's start with "open standards" which according to Wikipedia is "a standard that is publicly available and has various rights to use associated with it, and may also have various properties of how it was designed".
OK, perhaps that sheds some light on the matter, until one reads the next sentence from Wikipedia, "There is no single definition and interpretations do vary with usage."
Whatever "open standards" really are, the terms "open standards" and "openness" have clearly become key marketing terms and a product "battle cry".
So much so, that vendors have begun commenting on how they are more open than their competitors.
For instance, according to Cisco, "Microsoft has consistently moved away from industry standards in unified communications."
It is doubtful that this statement can be supported by solid facts; however, clearly the Cisco marketing department thinks it is an important point. Granted the new Microsoft Lync site itself speaks more to the ability to "integrate" and "open interoperability", and the Microsoft Lync datasheet does not even include the word "open" or any reference to open or industry standards.
In terms of the benefits of "openness", a representative of Avaya in an interview clearly equates open standards with improved interoperability, stating, "The premise of unifying communications demands a move to open standards and with that move should come the corresponding benefit of vendor simplification, as enterprises will move to those platforms that enable interoperability."
Shoretel also clearly trumpets the benefits of open standards in promoting integration, suggesting, "ShoreTel's support of open standards offers customers the flexibility to integrate leading business process applications with their business communications systems." Shoretel is even "open" beyond standards, further promoting its "open interfaces" saying "ShoreTel's distributed architecture includes an array of open interfaces that seamlessly integrate third-party information and applications". A lot of buzzwords for one sentence.
Polycom, not content to be just "open", is also "platform agnostic": "Polycom is the partner of choice for leading Unified Communications (UC) and networking solutions providers because Polycom offers an open, platform-agnostic approach to collaboration." Although one would suspect they would at least prefer customers purchase Polycom videoconferencing gear as opposed to gear from Cisco, right?
It seems that the attribute of "openness" or the use of "open standards" is meant to imply that you can integrate, or interconnect or interoperate products from one vendor with products from another vendor, or sometimes simply that two products from the same vendor actually work together.
In short, openness means I can get some specific things to work together.
The issue I see is that the theoretical ability to connect products from different vendors only matter if I already have, or intend to purchase, things from another vendor. I suspect "interoperability" is more likely the virtue and openness simply one approach to get interoperability.
And if interoperability is the real virtue, does it matter whether you interoperate based on open standards or proprietary standards? Isn’t it most important to "get the job done", to deliver a reliable and functional solution?
Now, if it were my current role to define a product's architecture, I would certainly investigate and consider adopting open standards provided the inclusion of these standards gave my product a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
However my job, and I suspect many of yours, is to help improve communication and collaboration for end users.
And in this context, for me "openness" is not a virtue. As such, I am not going to choose, recommend or promote one solution over another simply because it is more "open".
On the other hand, I would say cleanliness is a virtue, because my mom told me so.
Kevin Kieller is a partner with enableUC, a company that helps measure, monitor and improve UC and collaboration usage and adoption. He also currently holds the role as Lead Unified Communications Strategist and UC Centre of Excellence Leader at Bell Canada.