Cost-Cutting Community

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-02-24 Print this article Print


Cost-Cutting Community

That is exactly the goal of the Collaborative Software Initiative, or CSI, which brings together like-minded companies to build software applications at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. CSI officials said the company introduces a market-changing process that applies open-source methodologies to building collaboratively developed software.

Stuart Cohen, CEO of CSI, believes in the power of collaboration. "We collaborate with our customers in every step of the application life cycle, from initial vision through planning and design to development and maintenance," he said. "Our belief is the power of collaboration can reduce cost, mitigate risk, speed development and infuse new ideas to solve complex issues."

Behlendorf, who serves as an adviser to CSI, said he is enthusiastic about the company "because I saw open-source software going beyond things like the database and tools to reach this critical point where you can bring different companies with different agendas together to focus on the more immediate need of software development and community. This is how open-source software gets built and how it becomes a united project."

Behlendorf said he does not see any other company doing "a hybrid of a services company and a product company" and basing it on open source and collaborative development. "IBM comes closest," he said.

CSI is working to advance community sourcing as an application development model, according to Cohen. He said the idea for the company came to him about two and a half to three years ago when he was the CEO of OSDL (Open Source Development Labs), which later merged with the Free Standards Group to form the Linux Foundation.

 "A lot of people were asking us to help them build community development strategies," Cohen said. "And we spun out of OSDL to focus on business-to-business development."

Describing the company, Gartner's Prentice said, "An amalgam of technical, project management and open-source skills sets, CSI's objective is to act as a bonding agent between organizations that share common business challenges-usually within a single industry."

Added Prentice: "What CSI does is to broker a relationship between the affected organizations, not including vendors, with the intent of project managing a coordinated development effort between them. This reduces the costs of bespoke development from each participating member by distributing it amongst them."

However, the real impact of CSI's efforts lies in the fact that CSI manages the process of covering all the resulting work under an open-source license agreement, Prentice said. This is a key point not lost on Cohen, who tapped Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center, as an adviser to CSI, particularly on issues of licensing.

Meanwhile, CSI has helped to introduce community-source development into various industries, including the financial services market, health care, energy and utilities, and government, Cohen said.

Demonstrating the capabilities of the collaborative model in the area of public health, CSI built TriSano, which is an open-source, citizen-focused surveillance and outbreak management system for infectious disease, environmental hazards and bioterrorism attacks. The system enables local, state and federal entities to gather information through interactions with citizens and helps public health officials better serve citizens, according to CSI officials.

To create TriSano, CSI launched a collaborative project with subject matter experts such as doctors, nurses, epidemiologists and others working together with the company's program manager and development experts to create a next-generation disease surveillance and outbreak management application.

"TriSano addresses an urgent need of public health departments at the local, state and federal levels to fight the spread of infectious disease," said Dr. Robert Rolfs, MD, an epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health. "By hosting the TriSano open-source project, the Collaborative Software Initiative is building an open-source community that has a shared interest in improving citizens' health by collecting and managing data to better address infectious disease outbreaks and meet CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] compliance requirements."

Kelly Usselman, the TriSano public health community manager, said, "In current economic times, the ability to collaborate and share can be of great value to those that participate."

In an effort to share the costs of software development and decrease overall risk, state agencies are beginning to reach out beyond their borders to join with their counterparts in other states, according to Rick Howard, CIO of the Oregon Department of Human Services.

"By pooling their intellectual capital and financial resources, these states are forming partnerships with independent organizations that offer the necessary technical expertise to quickly develop open-source software solutions that adhere to the standards necessary within the framework of a service-oriented architecture," Howard said.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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