The biggest ICT issue for a typical small-to-medium enterprise is lack of integration between applications acquired from different providers, says entrepreneur Steven McArdle. They are often committed to working in silos with their common business tasks, because it is so difficult to send output from one application into another from a different supplier.
McArdle is developing an integration framework for a suite of open-source applications to ensure they all communicate with one another. He is pulling standard applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning, customer relationship management, database and records management, a web content management system and “telephony solutions”, all free open source products, into the framework. The integration element will include an enterprise service bus, a portal, rules management and business process management engines and an overarching administration and configuration console.
The entire package will be known as EOSS, for Enterprise Open Source Solutions, with a company of the same name to sell and support it.
“Most of the basic infrastructure is done,” McArdle says and he is now providing for tailoring of the administrative component to reflect the customer organisation’s branding.
He plans to offer EOSS as a resident program on the customer’s hardware, in hosted mode or in the cloud, probably with Amazon’s EC2.
He is currently the only employee, though when the EOSS product is closer to completion he will be looking for staff through communities associated with the NZ Open Source Society (NZOSS).
He expects the product to be substantially ready by October and the company to be trading in the first quarter of next year and employing about 10 people full-time by mid-2011.
The most important search will be for a managing director as McArdle admits he does not have the business skills to fill this role himself. “I’m more a chief technical officer,” he says.
The suite could act as an incentive to take small-medium enterprises into the open source world. Asked why open source has not taken off in small business to the extent that it might have, he suggests the spreading of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) by providers of proprietary applications is largely to blame, though he says the open-source community “has not done itself any favours”.
“There are thousands of products of varying quality” and potential users are likely to be confused.
EOSS, he says, will ease this problem by providing a selection of well-tested business applications. Changes should not be necessary for these applications to work with the EOSS framework, but if it is, the company will donate the changes back into the developer community in accordance with good open-source practice.
He also plans to provide interfaces to the common proprietary applications that many of his potential customer base will already be using.
McArdle came here with his family last June. He hails from the UK, but before the move was living and working in Spain.
Currently he is working for a Wellington software development company that knows of his plans to move on with his own venture, he says.
NZOSS president Don Christie says McArdle seems to “know his stuff technically”. There are similar solutions in the market, he says, using different software stacks, but the market dominance of proprietary software is still in Christie’s view the chief obstacle to small businesses trying alternative routes. It is hard for such people to buy hardware that doesn’t have proprietary software pre-installed, he says.