One of the great advances of technology has been to erase boundaries and bring people together in ways unimaginable not too long ago. With connected devices, apps, and the Internet of Things, the business ecosystem is more closely interwoven than ever before. That’s why companies need to embrace an open attitude in everything they do, from the products they make to their company culture, from their relationships with partners to their competitors.
Tech companies used to dominate the field by building impressive solution suites that were walled off from other products. Oracle’s cofounder and former chief executive Larry Ellison was often quoted as saying, “It is not sufficient that I succeed. Everyone else must fail.” In the ’90s and early 2000s, tech giants like Microsoft and Oracle became known for building walled gardens of technology that were difficult, if not impossible, to integrate with other solutions.
The cloud ecosystem turns walled gardens inside out
This all changed with the rise of cloud computing and disruptive new software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions that have sprung up in the past several years. As companies like Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and Google quickly elbowed their way into the enterprise software market, legacy tech giants realized they needed to take a more open attitude.
The cloud software model empowered businesses to pick best-of-breed solutions from a wide variety of vendors to meet their specific needs, including specialized customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource management, business intelligence, and marketing software. Instead of running everything in an on-premises data center with a single proprietor, companies started adopting dozens of different solutions across multiple platforms. Since then, Oracle has come to embrace the cloud, and Microsoft’s new chief executive, Satya Nadella, has “scrapped [Microsoft’s former approach], casting it instead as a company capable of working across any platform — even those controlled by competitors,” according to Wired.
I am of course happy to see companies adopting a more open attitude toward collaboration, and this has long been one of my guiding principles in business. We have seen our customers and partners, which include Microsoft and Oracle, tear down the walls between their systems and data to create a new digital business where information flows without restrictions, similar to the way that the walls between our offices and departments have come down as part of an open company culture.
An open attitude starts at the top
Companies can’t just open themselves up overnight: external openness begins with internal openness, starting with the chief executive and filtering through every aspect of the company. I believe that openness should be a tenet of every modern business, and oftentimes that means opening up the company’s core operating technology. For example, at Jitterbit we have created dashboards that anyone in the company can access. The dashboards pull info from multiple applications, from marketing automation to CRM to advertising to apps on our own cloud platform. They allow anyone in the company to view how many users were added this week, how many clicked on an ad, who became a customer, renewed, or reported a bug in the product, just to name a few examples.
When everyone can see information about the business it breeds openness and conversation, which ultimately leads to innovation. Although a chief executive’s open-door policy and willingness to hear suggestions from anyone in the company helps foster openness (and is something I support), there needs to be a technological foundation of openness. This open foundation will be more effective in inspiring employees at all levels to develop products and services that “play well with others” — a characteristic that customers demand from new solutions. It also paves the way for robust partnerships that multiply the value of each company’s offerings, as we have seen through highly successful partner ecosystems like the AppExchange from salesforce.com, SuiteApps from NetSuite, and, of course, Apple’s game-changing App Store.
For the previous generation of tech companies, it wasn’t enough to be successful: you had to also keep your competitors at bay. But today’s hyper-connected businesses need to take a different approach. In a rapidly changing world where powerful new technologies can spring up overnight, each company’s success is tied its ability to integrate with different partners and new solutions, and that all starts with a culture of openness.
George Gallegos is chief executive of cloud integration company Jitterbit.
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