Truly Open or Simply Ajar

Defining 'Open' in the Tech World

By
Perspectives | 04-26-2019
Brett Jones

“Open” is a technology transformation that’s generating a lot of buzz, largely because it’s being used to describe an array of things. We see, for example, terms like open ecosystem, open architecture and open platform. But like all terms that become commonplace, open has started to lose its meaning. Does it mean that the technology works anywhere? Does it mean that anyone can use the code? Or does it mean that anyone can sign up for free? The good news: I’m here to explain what open truly is, why it’s important to you and what you’ll need to look out for with open technology claims.

Ultimately, you’ll see the benefit of a platform that democratizes data and accelerates growth by facilitating better, faster decisions.

But first things first. To drill down to what open technology actually means, I turned to my fellow open enthusiast, Ton An Huynh, Head of Global Product Leadership for Nielsen Connect. He started in the good ol’ days of open source software. In that context, open referred to any program whose source code is made available for use or changes as users see fit. Open source software established a defined licensing system that classified technology as open or closed; the only requirement your software needed to be considered “open” was an approved license. Unfortunately, open source software dramatically increased in cost, relative to hardware. With that cost came new fees for licensing software, which meant that people could no longer study or modify programs written by others. As you can imagine, this had to evolve.

Then, consider that not too long ago, the cost of technology meant investing in the life of a product that worked relatively well the entire time. The servers you still have at your company are a great example. You invested in them, they still work, they’re still around, but they weren’t designed with a future-proof mentality in mind. Today, newer platforms and devices, created to make your life easier, are now linked to one another, which offers liberating flexibility.

Pair this with the fact that technology doesn’t live in a silo: A space suit allows its wearer to talk to the command center, your phone can talk to your house, manufacturers’ systems can talk to retailers, and so on. Technology must feature the ability to scale and change with its environment. In other words, it needs to be flexible. Your business technology should be able to do the same thing. It must have the ability to flex and scale—quickly and seamlessly—so you don't have to keep investing in "new" tools while keeping pace with the changing marketplace.

It’s been said many times before, but the Apple iPhone is a great example of a product that scales with ease. The apps available expand what the iPhone can do, taking it from “phone” to virtually anything you can imagine. The apps allow the iPhone to grow with your needs. Your iPhone can be your fitness tracker, your photography studio, your accountant, and more. No matter what you need, apps allow the iPhone to grow with the consumer. Nielsen grows with your business in a similar way.

That brings us to the next iteration of open: flexible. Today, through the use of the internet, open technology means enabling customers to have the flexibility, knowledge and confidence to make future-proof technology investments, as well as the ability to extend and enhance software to meet their needs. Here’s a simple sketch that gives a basic understanding of open in the technology world:

Open tech explained

So is everyone’s technology truly open? To respond, Ton An, a fellow father, asked the time-old dad joke: “When is a door not a door?,” to which I replied, “When it’s ajar.” Who would have thought one of the first jokes I learned as a kid would teach me such a surprising lesson: Sometimes people say their technology is open when it’s really ajar.

The reality is, ajar definitions of open are everywhere and can be quite misleading. For example, think about the integration of multiple data sets. Integration does not mean open. When multiple data sets are integrated, technology will allow client data to come in, but not freely. Clients can’t work with the data, play with it or extract it, taking the flexibility out altogether. These types of platforms aren’t truly agnostic because they’re one way and one-sided, and this inflexibility prevents them from being truly open.

At Nielsen, we have a much different view of open, one that is not ajar or a “bit more open.” To us, open means exactly that—open. We define open as the ability to use different parties and types of data, models to enrich and applications to consume and take action.

Since our technology is truly open, there are a ton of benefits to you and your business. Here’s what you couldn’t do until now:

  • Our data, your way: We can be your technology solution or you can plug into ours. Our flexible technology allows you to grow and scale with our data any way you choose.
  • Integrate data sources from multiple places: Our data, your data, third-party data, supplier data, etc.—all in one secure data lake. This provides an integrated experience for you and your users. We have been able to seamlessly show our users the levers of price, promotion, distribution and our media data in one application. Now, you can see the whole picture instead of making decisions that potentially offset the other.
  • Seamlessly collaborate: Our technology allows for seamless collaboration and decision making, internally across the organization and externally with your retailers and vendors. Finally, everyone is using the same system, the same sources of data, the same analytics, etc., so decisions no longer compete with one another in silos. Ultimately, you will have one single, consistent global solution.

This open, secure technology environment provides access to everything from our reference data to our data science models, enabling you to move faster and integrate seamlessly into your own architecture and workflows. It also allows for faster development between Nielsen, you and our Connected Partners.

With all of this said, I hope you feel empowered to ask the next person who tells you their technology is open:

  • What do you really mean by open?
  • Does your technology use open source code?
  • How adaptable and flexible is your technology to change for the future?
  • How does your technology scale?
  • Does your technology use the cloud?
  • Does your technology play nice with others? And is it truly agnostic?

Simply ajar technology isn’t good enough for your business when you can have truly open technology, like Nielsen Connect, which ultimately gives you the choice and control to evolve beyond data management.

Finally. Your future, transformed.

Tagged:  CPG AND RETAIL  |  BIG DATA  |  TECHNOLOGY

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