Open Ecosystem

Blog: Buzzword Bingo: Let's Talk About "Open Ecosystems"

September 21, 2016  |  BRENT GAMBLE

As a product manager in the software industry, I encounter plenty of buzz words. I believe it’s to the point where “top five” lists are now produced. “Real-time,” “robust & scalable,” “inclusive,” we’ve all heard them … a lot. Some of these terms have become true industry paradigms (i.e. cloud), with concrete definitions, while others are – in my opinion! – little more than marketing language meant to make a product sound relevant and modern.

I was reviewing an RFI sent to me the other day that asked if our product has an open ecosystem. Of course everyone will say yes to this, but what, exactly, are they saying yes to? Do modern self-service software platforms really always play nicely in the world of open ecosystems? Let’s take a look at what this phrase means – and how it often gets misused in our own industry.

I’ll start with breaking this term down. At the most basic level, you have the adjective “open,” which simply means unblocked or unrestricted, and the noun “ecosystem,” which is loosely defined as a group of interconnected elements. Combined, it would seem as if the term implies an architecture that allows unfettered input and output with other architectures. As an example, the open ecosystem of Product A allows it to integrate with any CRM out there.  Is it that simple, or is there more to it?

Adhering to the highest level of definition, the answer is that it really is that simple. This is why everyone will answer “yes” to that question in the RFI.

Let’s break it down further, though: The next step is to understand what an “open” architecture means in terms of a product in the software industry. I know of many legacy software products that bolt on capabilities for web services, supporting either pushing or pulling of data from other products. By definition, this would bring said product into the fold of open ecosystems. Said product can now interact with other products in a structured manner and with (hopefully) a standard technology.

Yet in this scenario, often not much has changed behind the scenes. Bolting on capability for such simple interactions and claiming the product fosters an open ecosystem is one of the reasons the phrase is used so loosely. Worse yet, sometimes a product is pushed in this direction when it shouldn’t have been, and it loses its core competency.

So what is a pure, modern, open ecosystem? Take a look at your smart phone. All of the big players in the space have truly embraced the concept. Each company provides a Software Development Kit (SDK) using at least two different sets of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Furthermore, these products were designed specifically to support openness. While this alone is not earth shattering, the breadth and depth of the openness is. Essentially anyone, anywhere, can alter and improve the experience of the product in the case of smart phones with apps.

VISTA, our self-service software platform, has its origins as a toolkit, or SDK, and today we continue that legacy with every new version release. Instead of starting as a dinosaur product that bolts on technology to foster an open ecosystem, VISTA has always been built and designed for an open ecosystem. Starting at the head of the pack, as an ever-evolving product and front runner in today’s space, VISTA is always evolving to be at the leading edge of integration.

Today VISTA offers several SDKs that allow a developer to extend the product in a way that makes sense to the integration being performed. We continue to build out or enhance our development kits for adaption in different environments. We provide both out-of-the-box and reference applications to kick-start projects. We believe in what it means to “eat your own dog food,” so our out-of-the-box applications are built on the same SDKs that we provide standard to our consumers. Open ecosystem? We’ve been doing that longer than any other ATM product out there today.

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