There are a couple of books that everyone should’ve read in his life and I think that Thomas Friedman’s “the World is Flat” is one of them. Anti-globalists might disagree with his “globalization is great” story, but you cannot deny that globalization has had a huge impact on our lives and the IT business we are working in.
I don’t want to discuss the impact of globalization or the offshore business, no I actually want to highlight a recent initiative that Thomas Friedman (and/or his publisher) launched: give away a free audio copy of his book! You might wonder… why? Since sales of his books are rocket high (still to date with all the reprints), why does he need to give away audio copies for free? Apparently he is about to launch a new book in September, called “Hot, flat and crowded” that will focus on “how America can lead the green revolution in the 21st century”. This is a pretty smart move, since (as far as I can see it) it creates two effects:
- By doing this, he gets a lot of publicity (well we are talking in this blog about it, aren’t we?). It’s probably inspired by Radiohead’s decision to let users decide how much they want to pay for their new album (between 0 and unlimited). Radiohead got a lot of publicity, got a lot of street cred for this initiative and they get a huge revenue from their live performances anyway. So it’s free publicity for his new book (since you get also an excerpt from his new book for free).
- He potentially reaches an audience that was not planning to buy his book “the world is flat”, but now that it’s free, they “just try it”, with the hope that they’ll like it and are willing to buy his new book
When you think about it, with almost no budget they have created a whole media buzz for Thomas Friedman and his new book, by giving away his old book for free. A similar initiative was launched recently by a computer book writer (sorry, I really can’t recall his name anymore) that gives away his books in PDF. His reasoning is that with almost zero costs, you can potentially reach millions. This has two effects:
- People that were never ever planning to buy his book, download it and read it. They like it and decide to buy the hard copy.
- People that were planning to buy the book, download it as well, but then decide not to buy the hard copy since they already have the digital one for free.
As long as the first group outweighs the second one, you make profit. Let’s just hope that his theory works out.
The funny thing is that this model of giving away something with the hope to get extra revenue back, is seen as “disruptive” outside the IT world, but it’s a very common business model in our industry for years: giving away hardware to drive software license and support revenues, giving community editions to drive sales of the commercial editions, opening up Google APIs in order to gather even more data that can be analyzed… Whatever initiative, you always need to be aware that there is not such a thing as a free lunch. How tasty it might be!
Can we apply this strategy also for knowledge? True, by opening up code, you are giving away intellectual property, experience and knowledge but I am more talking about knowledge management systems. What if you would open up your whole company internal knowledge system? Can you monetize that in such a way that the benefit you gain, is bigger than the “threat” that your competitors gain by having an insight in your knowledge?
An interesting blog I read is High Availability that discusses the architecture from the largest internet applications in the world, think about Facebook and MySpace, think about Digg and 37Signals. I frequently read that several of those big websites share a big part of the way how they have tackled scalability issues with the rest of the world. Why? Because most of the time they are all reinventing the wheel again and again. They all face issues that the database becomes a bottle neck, caching issues, fault-tolerance, etc. Facebook and 37Signals are not competing with each other on having the fastest database, no they are both focused on delivering a web application: Facebook a social network platform, 37Signals a hosted project management software. If they can learn from each other’s experiences, they can serve their respective markets better.
Does this also hold for a knowledge sharing system? Let’s say that Capgemini would open its knowledge system and thus exposing information of how we have tackled a complex IT infrastructure problem. We could keep it internal and reuse that knowledge at other clients. We could also share it with the world, thus risking that another competitor of us applies our solution to another client. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily I’d say. If you are producing really innovative solutions, it really boasts your brand. You get a lot of recognition for the information you have shared and can establish yourself as an industry leader, with the added side-effect that it gets appealing for IT professionals to join your company. One concrete example that I can give is the Integrated Architecture Framework (IAF), an internally developed enterprise architecture framework that we have opened and donated to the Open Group’s TOGAF standard. Now we get a lot of street cred in the enterprise architects scene for this.
So open up the corporate knowledge system or keep it internal?