The next OSS breakthrough: Accessibility

Our motto at Passionate About OSS is, “Removing complexity from OSS.”

Sadly, we’re awash with complexity in our industry. If most OSS were represented as a board game, they’d look something like this:

Image sourced from

Would you know how to play this game without instructions? Even if you had instructions, it could take many months to master. I almost wonder whether this is a badge of honour for many in the industry? It means the special few (who have reached mastery level) can show off their prowess and become essential to the operational state of their telcos.

By contrast, when I think about some of our most impactful tech innovations in recent years, it’s not actually the technology that is so innovative per se. It’s been more about making complex technologies vastly more accessible to the masses. Their innovation has been in their user-friendliness.

Examples include:

  1. Tim Berners-Lee’s web server / browser / protocol and early browsers such as NSCA Mosaic to make Internet data easier to navigate and access
  2. The Apple iPod and iPhone that made audio players and smart phones more intuitive, making them attractive to a broader market
  3. ChatGPT, which made generative AI accessible to almost anyone
  4. Cloud computing from AWS and others that democratise computing platforms
  5. A myriad of low code / no code platforms like Microsoft PowerApps, which allow us to develop software with negligible coding skills

None of these examples were the first of their kind. It’s just that their predecessors were less accessible.

We went from this:

To mass-market appeal with this:

The early MP3 players crammed in ever-more features as a means of differentiation (the blue arrow in the long-tail diagram below), but were clunky to use. The iPod focused on the essential features (the red-shaded box) and usability (the green arrow) instead.

How many OSS solutions do you know of that are adding as many new features as fast as possible out at the far right tip of the blue arrow?

By contrast, how many are differentiating by shifting focus to deliver less functionality (inside the red shading) and improved accessibility (green arrow)?

The telco world is having a massive problem with churn and shortening tenures of staff. Their OSS-facing workers are just not sticking around long enough to learn how to play our complex board games, let alone master them. Even if they did, the oft-cited tech skills shortage means we don’t have enough players to go around.  Moreover, virtualisation, cloudification, automations and IT/telco convergence in general are actually making the games ever more complex at the OSS level. This represents significant business continuity risk for the telcos.

As a counterpoint to that risk, lies a big opportunity for OSS makers. It seems to me that we have two options. We can either:

  • Bake ever-more operational capability into our OSS and automations (though every carrier tech-stack, services, org chart, processes and required functionality is different, so vast variant trees need to be accommodated); or
  • We take a lead from tools like ChatGPT to provide more iterative, human-native interfaces in front of the complex solutions behind them

There’s a big reason why I’ve been writing so many articles about technologies at the periphery of OSS in recent times (technologies such as AR/VR, low-code / no-code apps, 3D modelling, digital twins and generative AI). Not because they’re buzz-factors, but because they all represent platforms that can make our OSS (and related data) vastly more intuitive and immersive.

There’s friction everywhere we look in OSS, so there’s a skills-shortage. Only a tiny proportion of society wear suitable badges of honour to use our current OSS. To be truly revolutionary (for their traditional telco clients, but also for a broader client base) our OSS simply need to become more accessible.

If you believe we might be able to help you on this journey of OSS simplification, please connect.

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