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The Benefits of Choosing Open Systems Software

Articles Central Innovation 30 May 2017

The Benefits of Choosing Open Systems Software

When considering new software packages or platforms for your business, you may find terms like ‘open system’, ‘open platform’ or ‘open software’ being used to describe them.

For example, Central Innovation is the sole Australasian distributor for a number of ‘open platform’ software solutions such as ARCHICAD, Solibri and DDS-CAD – the latter is described on our website as ‘one of the fastest and most versatile Open BIM solutions currently available for MEP engineers’.

But what exactly is an ‘open system’, and just what are its benefits over the traditional ‘closed’ or proprietary system?

Let’s start with the example of DDS-CAD. BIM, as you may be aware, stands for Building Information Modelling – combining geometric and other data relating to construction components to create a digital model of a building. The term ‘Open BIM’ refers to the fact that this software suite is an example of open format collaboration, as opposed to being developed from proprietary tools and formats (which one would call ‘closed BIM’).

The broader philosophy behind ‘Open BIM’ is that of the open system – which as the name suggests enables the open sharing, exchanging and reuse of data across software applications.

Such an approach is particularly beneficial in that it provides interoperability across multiple platforms. Particularly in the AEC sector we often need to communicate or import/export data, not only between software platforms within our own organisation or business structure, but across multiple disciplines. Data is passed not only from architects to engineers and construction teams but must typically be shared with many other stakeholders.

This cross-disciplinary communication can be facilitated by either proprietary solutions, which consist of a particular format or interface, or open format solutions. Open BIM is an example of the latter.

A key goal behind these kinds of open systems is to provide greater interoperability, which in the case of Open BIM is certainly being generated within AEC sector projects. From Clash Detection modelling to identify incompabilities in design parameters, to procurement planning within the construction process, and in supporting space and asset management, maintenance planning and more, Open BIM is proving its value by facilitating the sharing of models and data.

So clearly there is a strong business case to be made for choosing open systems. The need for maximum interoperability is clear, as are the other business benefits: open systems offer greater flexibility by giving you the ability to choose software from different suppliers with the knowledge that they will work together and can be accessed across different environments.

Using open systems gives us the potential to share and access information worldwide as needed, and provides portability across different platforms. All this can save us money and make organisational change and the evolution of our business models easier by reducing the constraints traditionally imposed by our use of proprietary IT systems.

The bottom line is that open systems provide us with greater freedom of choice – enabling us to interconnect systems and software of our own choosing so they work together in the way we want them to. Using proprietary systems and software, on the other hand, limits our choices.

So why, despite these clear benefits, are so many businesses still working with closed, proprietary systems? The reasons are chiefly historical – proprietary systems have dominated the business landscape, but in the long run this monopolistic approach has proven to be detrimental not only to competition but to longevity.

The most commonly cited example is that of the VHS vs Betamax formats of domestic VCRs – Betamax was generally considered the superior technology, but Sony’s decision to retain licensing rights to it ended up ensuring that VHS, which developer JVC shared as an open standard with competitors, became the industry standard. In the end even Sony adopted the VHS format.

Similar examples can be found in the computing industry: MS-DOS and later Windows operating systems came free with PCs in the early days, comparable to JVC’s decision to make the VHS standard openly available thus ensuring its widespread adoption. For some time in the 1990s, Apple’s demise as an alternative to the Windows standard was being predicted, until the former revived its fortunes by bringing back Steve Jobs and changing its business direction.

What this highlights is a fundamental change in approach to technological advances that have broad industrial applications: rather than the ‘old school’ strategy of patenting and protecting everything by making it a ‘proprietary’ standard, you develop a very high quality open standard which is then made freely available for further adaptation and application, develops critical mass and can become the industry standard.

In the electric automotive industry Elon Musk’s Tesla is doing just this – making its software freely available, in the knowledge that industry is recognising its worth and adopting it as a new de facto standard.

Back in 2014 Musk blogged, “Yesterday there was a wall of patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters … they have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.” He concluded: “Technology leadership is not determined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.”

This is the approach software and system developers are increasingly tapping into – creating software platforms in adherence with open systems standards and philosophy can provide developers with market penetration very quickly and enable them to capitalise upon readymade demand among customers.

It is also the type of thinking which is driving the trend towards greater industry adoption of open systems – a new mindset towards which business is moving. With the ever more rapid evolution of computing systems and software platforms, businesses will increasingly look towards open systems because they won’t want to be locked into proprietary formats which prevent them from achieving true interoperability and which will likely end up becoming obsolete, sooner rather than later.

When we look to the future and consider the possible need to retrieve archived data from software platforms in 10 or even 20 years’ time, it’s obvious that a proprietary software format may well become a hindrance rather than a help. Indeed, choosing open systems software platforms is a way of safeguarding your business’ longevity – providing not only greater interoperability but greater security, risk management and sound economic benefits.

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