Orixo in the EU spotlight

I must confess I still haven’t read the EU report on FLOSS impact yet, as I was saving it for my next long-haul flight due in a couple of days. Big thanks to Roberto Galoppini for pointing out how the report is mentioning Orixo, the Open Source consortium we launched a few years ago together with some of the most active companies in Open Source XML:

As an example of a more recent development in business models, which could provide a future scenario for SMEs in general even beyond the FLOSS sector is the Orixo network of mainly small and micro-enterprises in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, UK and Switzerland specialising in massive mission-critical web server applications based around customising the FLOSS web server Apache and related Java/XML technology (such as Cocoon) for large users. Orixo works by each national SME member acquiring national customers and partners in other countries supporting each other’s clients.

It’s good to see we are still making the news but I don’t quite share the authors’ conclusion on consortia being a future scenario for SMEs. As I told Roberto, who shared a similar experience, the least important part in the Orixo experience has been doing business as a common entity. Orixo was able to attain quite a few notable goals: we met, we got to know each other, we exchanged experiences and business ideas, and we did a few cross-company projects. Two companies who met in Orixo went the extra mile, eventually merging and providing the initial step to our next phase, that is Sourcesense, which gathers as a company (not a consortium) three Orixo players.

The main differences between Orixo and Sourcesense are focus and governance. Sourcesense is an indipendent company, with a clear mission, a vision, and a structure. We have Open Source-savy investors who share a common view of the market: they set expectations, approve the plan, throw money in the hat and perform their quota of oversight, yet they are not involved in day to day operation, and they don’t participate to the decision process. This is key to an effective process: my experience shows there’s nothing harder than have individuals with a strong personality such as entrepreneurs sit around a table and agree on a detailed common roadmap. Democracy is definitely a poor governance model when it comes to business: a strong company, with proper hierarchies and delegation structures in place, is much more effective when it comes to getting to the market.

Don’t get me wrong: Orixo has definitely been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to do more over there in the field of advocacy and general marketing, but I would strongly advise against using consortia to do actual business. It just doesn’t work, no matter how I love my fellow Orixians. Consortia are great for networking, getting to know each other better, share experiences and market approaches, understand joint business opportunities and work on actual cross-company business: that’s great stuff, but don’t try to push the boundary, as when it comes to concrete business it’s just too hard to cope with the sheer amount of management that kicks in. It’s a full time job.

Side note: Roberto has some interesting ideas on a Open Source franchising model which might serve as an alternative for the SME market. I’m actually very skeptical and I’m not convinced it would work in the end, but there are some concepts I’d like to delve further into. But that’s not going to happen before I return from my upcoming vacation!