Q&A with Stuart Cohen, CEO of Collaborative Software Initiative

Founded last year, Cohen's initiative continues to push the envelope on what open source can do for the enterprise.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

I was fortunate to catch up Thursday with Stuart Cohen, CEO and founder of the Collaborative Software Initiative. Stuart used to run OSDL where he got to talk with people at large enterprises that have adopted open source, and learned quite a bit about enterprise interest in not only consuming open source, but also creating open source.

Stuart Cohen
Stuart Cohen Collaborative Software Initiative

To help foster both interests Stuart founded CSI in 2007. I asked him how things have progressed since CSI's founding:

Asay: Collaborative Software Initiative is going on 18 months now. How has the company evolved since you founded it in April 2007?

Cohen: I'm really proud to say that our original concept has been validated in multiple verticals with very different projects. Based on my early conversations with customers during my time as CEO of Open Source Development Labs, I saw an untapped opportunity to build communities in vertical markets to develop software at a fraction of the cost of traditional software models.

We believe, and again this has been validated over the last year, that communities lower cost, provide a "network effect" for companies adopting these applications and build sustainability for future growth of an application.

The unique value Collaborative Software Initiative brings to the market is our recipe for collaboration that enables developing and deploying software in a variety of ways: software as a service (SaaS), on-site, and as an appliance. In short, our mission is to work with companies that have identified common needs in their vertical, reduce their upfront cost of development and deployment, and create a community around the code to improve the technology past the point of delivery, leveraging dollars for competitive differentiation.

You can think of us as a combination of the best of commercial software, open-source software, and custom software for the benefit of like-minded companies.

Asay: A year ago I said that Collaborative Software Initiative was changing the rules of the enterprise. Do you think this still true?

Cohen: Yes, very much. Enterprise organizations have gained a significant amount of value from infrastructure applications that have been community built - from Linux to MySQL to JBoss, the results are undeniable.

That said, software developers are best when solving problems they are passionate about, which generally does not include compliance software or industry-specific applications, which is why subject matter experts are so important to our collaborative model. Gartner likes to call us the first vendor to represent community sourcing, which it says is when users decide to band together to create their own solutions. Our collaborative model enables that phenomenon.

Asay: Tell me more about TriSano and your choice to license it under AGPLv3.

Cohen: We're really excited about TriSano and our decision to go with AGPLv3 was one to which we gave a lot of thought. TriSano is a public health application focused on infectious disease surveillance, outbreak management and bioterrorism attacks, and it's a community where epidemiologists, doctors, nurses, health officials and software developers work together to create critically needed public health applications. AGPLv3 best supports the confluence of software-as-a-service and open-source development models. The reaction to TriSano has been quite positive.

Asay: In what other vertical markets is Collaborative Software Initiative seeing demand for its development model?

Cohen: It's amazing how many people I've talked to over the last two years about how the Collaborative Software Initiative model can work for them. When customers see our model, they quickly identify opportunities to collaborate with their peers. People from a range of industries have expressed interest and we see organic growth from our first few projects in health care, government and financial services. We're also talking to folks in the pharmaceutical, manufacturing, and energy industries.

Asay: Open source really is about collaboration, as you indicate in the name of your company. Given your experiences over the last five years, what's your advice for the open-source industry today?

Cohen: Go beyond the code. Extend your business model to address the needs of business users and subject matter experts. The best software is developed with collaboration among all constituents - the developers, users and partners. The principles that made open source disruptive to the software industry can be applied to a new level of applications that broaden the opportunities for any software company. This brings greater value to the customers and communities served.

Excellent insight, confirming to me that CSI continues to push the envelope on what open source can do for the enterprise.