Firefox open innovation model
Since I read the McKinsey’s interview with Mitchell Baker, I was willing to write about my opinion about the new business models based on open innovation, and to do an analysis of Firefox open innovation model.
Few organizations have so much experience harnessing the talents of people outside the organisation as Mozilla Corporation. This is a particular case where the company depends on volunteers to make certain decisions, for product development, distribution and promotion. With more than 15% global market share for Firefox and more than 15 products and components developed, it is clear that a traditional organisation could have never achieved all that the Mozilla Corporation has.
In the current IT market there are three fundamental factors that make open innovation models very interesting:
- Technology development costs are higher every day.
- Technology life cycle gets shorter every day.
- There are increasing difficulties to find and retain the most talented people.
During the last 10 years, the company has spearheaded the development of the Firefox web browser (among other products and open source components) being able to create a much better product than its greatest competitor, Microsoft Internet Explorer. According to Mitchell, there are some people with a high degree of expertise and specialization which you can’t hire, and they would never find them if they weren’t an open project. Also Mitchell says that, apart from their popular browser, the main contribution that the Mozilla Corporation has made is it’s open model of participation. Here I will try to analyze such model and give my opinion as a conclusion.
As we can see in the diagram extracted from a presentation from Seokchan Yun below, the development community is organised in several concentric circles. In the core, the development process is very disciplined, but there are other areas for participation much more open to experimentation which are less rigid but that provide a source for innovation that later on can be incorporated to the core of the browser.
Mozilla project also depends on the participation of large amounts of people to detect and correct bugs, to distribute the software (for example, included in the different Linux distros), to promote the usage of its products to more users, to develop extensions, make translations, get feedback, etc.
Instead of the traditional concept of “value chains” of traditional organisations, I think that in this case it’s more appropriate to talk about “value networks”. Below we can see a diagram made by Sherman Dickman (Product Management Director, from Mozilla Corporation) with some of the actors and their interactions that are produced within that value network. I think that we could include more actors (corporate contributors like IBM, Red Hat, Google, etc.) and more relationships (the users also contribute with Feedback, Beta Testing, etc.) but the diagram transmits the idea correctly.
Analyzing the interview, I can extract certain key factors that make this innovation ecosystem work:
- Don’t think that you are the center of the ecosystem, but simply another node of the network.
- Giving freedom to people can make wonders (the famous “empowerment”)
- The product can change its users lives, and the users can adjust the product to their needs, and therefore the users take ownership of the product.
Following are some of the risks to consider:
- Be comfortable “living in the fishbowl”: people has to get used to the idea that your work can be examined and evaluated by anyone.
- Keep a coherent and open position: if the company is doing one thing but tries to project a different image, it won’t work.
Finally, the success of the Mozilla project in such a competitive scenario and with such dominant competitors shows us clearly that you can give people control or choice in an elegant manner and still be a professional vendor and that such an open innovation model is commercially viable. Moreover, by adopting an open innovation business model, companies can reduce dramatically the pitfalls, costs and risks associated with “closed” innovation.
Even though this model is more frequent in open source projects, it can also be applied in other environments.
Some other open source projects (from different markets) where we can see how the open innovation networks create successfull products and generate value for all the participants are:
- Eclipse (Development IDE)
- MySQL (Data Base)
- Apache (Web Server)
- GNU/Linux (Operating System)
- OpenOffice (Office suite)
- Zimbra (Workgroup suite)