An important decision you have to make when building or managing technology is whether to take an open or closed environment approach. Many think they can just buy the best point solutions and be fine but that doesn’t work. Whether building or buying your environment you need to make a decision.
Apple is the poster child for closed systems that are meticulously managed and maintained. There are few others who have achieved this approach. Blackberry did for a time but they didn’t have the foresight to maintain it over time. Amazon is having mixed success with their Kindle line (even though it is built on Android). To some extent you could even argue that Google’s Nexus line follows a semi-closed philosophy even though Google as an organization believes differently.
But in a closed system you buy the system, not components. There is no build-it-yourself as part of it. You can buy add-ons but they typically come from the same providers.
On the other side, Microsoft and Google are the open system examples. Microsoft’s entire approach (until recent pushes with XBox and Surface) is to provide the software for any computer in the world (even Macs). Google takes much the same approach – anything that allows their online services to be the first solution to any device in the world is what they prefer.
So what does this have to do with you and your systems? First- are you in business for market share or to deliver the best solution possible for your clients. These are competing goals that cannot coexist peacefully. While there may be a short period of time that you can achieve both, it is difficult long-term. Apple was the market share leader with the best service with the iPhone and iPad when they both came out but they were quickly surpassed by Android for market share. However, Apple is still the profits leader and has the best fully integrated solution.
The biggest reason the two philosophies cannot coexist is price related. It is nearly impossible to maintain a price advantage and have the best solution. Eventually someone will come up with a more competitively priced solution that is “good enough” and start to take market share. Similarly, you can’t have the best solution without investment which will drive up the cost of your solution.
Another reason they can’t coexist is the approach to users. An open system is likely to have more trade-offs in order to support the philosophies. These could be security or hardware related. As soon as you begin making these trade-offs in order to be better positioned in the open marketplace there will be customers who reject your solution because it doesn’t check one of their boxes. Closed systems, on the other hand, provide the boxes and manage all aspects in a easier to prove way. Look at computer operating systems, Apple’s OS X is the least attacked operating system, in part because it doesn’t have market share but also because of how it was created. It’s closed approach makes it much more difficult to penetrate. Windows is designed for others to do things to which is generally going to make it less secure.
This is an important discussion for any group. Yes, it’s philosophical and may not seem to drive value early in a product’s life but it will quickly be an issue that must be dealt with.