What is the Exciting Next Frontier of OSS Solution Development?

A discussion with an OSS vendor last week reminded me of an article, and a lecture by Mark Zangari that inspired it, which is now nearly 10 years old. It’s worth revisiting because the challenges described are still relevant for OSS today, still not adequately resolved.

At the time, Mark described for his audience at SFU that the data management problem had largely been solved (which is true, although improvements are still appearing on the market).

The diagram below (a slight variation on Mark’s presentation) alludes to the fact that there are comprehensive solutions available for Data, including:

  • Collection
  • Data Management
  • Analytics and
  • Presentation / Visualisation

However, we’ve all seen what Point #1 in this diagram looks like. We’ve seen OSS and/or Business Intelligence (BI) tools that provide us with hundreds of graphs of performance counters. Unfortunately, these still-raw graphs only help take us part-way along the journey to a decision. 

The output of many OSS tools are just raw metrics. BI tools are quite helpful for presenting large volumes of complex data in forms that the human brain can comprehend. The interesting thing about this is that our brains are actually already quite efficient at understanding data. We’ve solved the part that our brains are already reasonably adept at – we’ve created databases, BI tools, algorithms, etc, etc for capturing, processing and loading data.

But the part that our brains are far less well suited for, the middle box representing the modelling of complex systems and decision support, is yet to be mastered. Instead we largely rely on human intuition to inform what action to take next – to carry us from the raw graphs at point 1 to definitive action/s at point 2. Our brains just aren’t sophisticated enough to consider all the variants and identify the optimal answer in most cases. Computers are typically far more adept at performing option analyses than we are.

Despite this, it seems we haven’t focused much attention on creating tools to help us model the complex interactions of systems (consisting of people, process, technology, funding, etc) that turn raw outputs into optimal decisions. Nearly a decade on from Mark’s oration, there is still very little tooling in the world of OSS that helps us resolve the middle box to make better decisions.

This is the next frontier for OSS solution development.

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