How open architecture is changing the way we innovate

by Zoya Cochran, Principal Content Strategist, AT&T

Open architecture is a collaborative process for developing new technologies and solutions. It uses an “open” approach that can reduce vendor lock-in, encourage easier integration, and play a vital role in technology-based innovation.

This has many benefits for businesses and their customers. First, companies that use open architecture to develop new solutions can focus on what they do best instead of spreading themselves thin creatively and financially. Second, innovation through open architecture can be an effective response to consumer demands for more flexibility in what they buy—it’s a driver that encourages better customer experiences and service. And third, open architecture helps to create solutions that can more easily be integrated with other solutions by a variety of vendors. This is often a key value to consider if you’re shopping for solutions that are flexible and can meet the unique needs of your business.

This article delves deeper into the concept of open architecture: what it is, how it works, its benefits, and what to consider for your business, both for development and as a customer.

What is an open architecture?

Open architecture is a technology infrastructure that allows for the programming and data to be shared with the public. Companies, developers, and individuals alike can use it to create hardware, software, and other solutions. Open architecture uses open protocols to create and share data that can work seamlessly with one another. The result is that many interoperable variations can be created from one core project.

This is in contrast to closed architecture. A closed architecture only functions with specific, allowable technologies, software, and hardware. In many cases, this may be a vendor-locked design to only operate with the originating developer, manufacturer, or an ecosystem tightly controlled by the originator. They control the technology stack for turnkey solutions, requiring their customer to only purchase from them. The benefit is that all of the components work together from one provider.

But there are downsides to closed architecture. One, the customer is limited on customization, and if they try to add a third-party component, it may not work or may invalidate their warranties. For the provider, they may feel pressure to develop components that aren’t their specialty, which can mean high development costs and challenges to recoup their investments. And for the customer, financially, closed architecture solutions may often require capital expenses that are committed through term-based contracts. Breaking the contract could mean a financial penalty.

How does open architecture work?

Open architecture is flexible, accessible, modular, and interoperable through open standards. Its standardized protocols serve as the baseline to ensure each component is compatible with the others.  Standardization makes open architecture easier to adapt, modify, and innovate with than closed architecture, which intentionally restricts adaptations and modifications. Companies can work together to create new solutions to address common customer pain points.

Open architecture also makes it easier to layer or integrate other software and applications into and on top of the new solution. For example, a business fiber internet network built with an open architecture approach can be modified to include security and other technologies that can benefit its functionality.

Today’s technologies and networks are mixes of open and closed architectures. However, we’re rapidly moving toward a world predominantly based on open architectures. 

Benefits of open architecture

There are, no doubt, many things on your technology To-Do list. What are the compelling reasons to consider adding open architecture to that list? As you mull over the merits of open architecture initiatives and implementations, view it through the lens aligning your business with a trend that will help you now and set you up for a rapidly arriving future. There are many benefits for adopting and choosing solutions that are developed through open architecture principles and practices. These include:

  • Enhanced flexibility and scalability: Open architecture solutions allow businesses to more easily adapt to changing market demands and scale their operations by integrating new technologies and services without significant overhaul of existing systems.
  • Innovation acceleration: By fostering an environment of collaboration and information sharing, open architecture paves the way for continuous innovation, enabling businesses to quickly develop and deploy new solutions.
  • Cost efficiency: Open architecture challenges vendor lock-in by enabling more technologies and vendors to be interoperable with the solution, potentially lowering costs.
  • Improved customer experience: Open architecture allows for more flexibility, enabling businesses to customize their solution to their needs and have far more choices in the components they use. The result is possibly less frustration, downtime, and related expenses. It can also mean that companies have to work harder to retain a customer and their loyalty.

The big takeaway here is that open architecture positions you for greater operational flexibility, faster collaborative innovation, streamlined spending requirements, and the ability to exceed customer expectations in the experiences you deliver.

Why using open architecture is increasing

What’s driving the growth of open architecture? The answer isn’t only in the concept itself, but in an “open” approach to innovation in other ways too, specifically, with open source software.

Open source refers to software where the source code is publicly accessible and can be modified, enhanced, and distributed by anyone. Many of today’s cloud-based applications, like Mozilla Firefox, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Open AI, are open source and use an open API, which allows two applications or software components to talk to each other. In other words, a developer can create an application that functions through their publicly available source code.

In the past, companies had two options: (1) use a solution as-is and make your business fit to its design or (2) spend an inordinate amount of money to find ways to rebuild it for business needs. This often meant relying on components that may conflict with one another and result in downtime, lost productivity, and money spent on repairs. Open source and the agnostic nature of it, has been a powerful vehicle to change that. Open architecture takes this approach and uses it on a larger scale. It’s not only about software, but entire solutions.

Beyond the open source movement, there are a number of trends driving the growth of open architecture:

Trend 1: The push for budget flexibility

Because of the interoperable design, which results in more vendors to choose from that can integrate into a solution, open architecture can help provide more options on spending than closed architecture solutions.

Trend 2: The need for organizational and business agility

As your business evolves and grows, open architecture-based solutions help you have more flexibility and freedom to modify or change components as needed.

Trend 3: The quest for collaboration

Open architecture facilitates collaboration with third-party developers, which can lead to faster innovation—key to keeping up with the ever-changing technology landscape.

Trend 4: The demand for resiliency

The Covid-19 pandemic taught businesses the need for resilience in the event of unexpected market changes. The agile nature of open architecture can help alleviate some of those pressures.

Open architecture can help address the trends—budget flexibility, organizational agility, collaboration, and resiliency—many organizations are facing.

How customer expectations are driving open architecture growth

In addition to these trends, customer expectations are also fueling the growth to open architecture. Customers are demanding more control and flexibility, driving them to seek platform-agnostic solutions for a seamless, better user experience. Also, they’re looking for more flexible, affordable, personalized products, solutions, and experiences. As a result, businesses are needing to find new ways to meet customer needs and quickly adapt as those needs change.

More personalized, ready, and quality experiences are becoming a defining factor—if not the defining factor—in customer loyalty. Costs are rising due to supply chain volatility, raw resource shortages, and even political pressures. Yet, there are also pressures within the business to lower costs and offer more value to their customers.

In striving to meet these expectations, organizations are finding that open architecture helps them develop products, services, and solutions faster. One reason is that it enables them to collaborate with companies that specialize in areas they themselves do not. This can lower the cost for innovation and possibly improve the speed of it as well. By focusing on what they do best while enlisting other best-of-breed offerings, businesses can more easily deliver the solutions and experiences that customers want.

Considerations for open architecture

With so many key business benefits in open architecture—both as an innovator, developer, or customer—what are things to keep in mind as you create or adopt new solutions? The following are baseline considerations to keep in mind.

The health of the mechanisms driving your innovation. Assess the state of your capacity to innovate. Which technologies do you have in place that catalyze innovation? This might include customer relationship management platforms that store customer feedback. Maybe Internet of Things (IoT) devices that provide operational data. Conversely, do you have technologies that hinder innovation? Investigating these tools and the data they provide can enable you to create a baseline for how open architecture might help your business.

The state and effect of vendor lock-in on your organization. Next, if you don’t already have one, create a catalog of all the technologies your business relies on. Then, categorize them into either vendor locked-in or developed through open architecture. The greater the lock-in, the greater the cost potential and the more constricted your options may be. Add a column to the list and populate it with the open architecture alternatives. And while it’s not practical yet for all of your technologies to be based on “open” innovation, adding them to the mix may have the potential to yield more flexibility and cost savings.

The security to support open architecture. By its very nature, open architecture is more flexible but it also creates more entry points into your network to protect. Your external collaborators have their own unique approach to network security. It’s important to make defense in depth—layers of security that strengthen your protections—a high priority on your list. The first layer of your defenses needs to begin at your network. Create redundant, layered security for specific tools, but also through the new era of network security, which includes firewalls and other defenses within the network itself.  

The connectivity that forms your digital connective tissue. Creating new solutions often results in volumes of data. The network for business connectivity that carries that data needs to be fast, have sufficient bandwidth, and be reliable. This also includes integrating the low-latency benefits of 5G for business solutions, having reliable communication tools that enable remote access, fixed-mobile convergence for seamless transfers, and voice and collaboration that support video and sharing.

Caring for each of these considerations can help you get the most out of open architecture. In striving to provide the best experience for our customers so you can innovate and be future-ready, we’ve been shifting our network innovation from closed to open architecture.

Use case: open architecture and the network

What does open architecture look like in action? Let’s look at how AT&T is collaborating with other technology companies for modernizing the network.

For decades, our network has been based on hardware that is often proprietary, locking us into vendors and technologies—just as many of you have structured your business. However, over the past ten years, we’ve been transforming our network hardware into cloud-based software and making it accessible remotely. This enables us to be agile in securely upgrading and reconfiguring our network at internet speed.

Moving control of the network from hardware to software has meant we needed to look beyond the conventional way of using proprietary, “locked-in” equipment from a single vendor, to instead using decoupled, “open” components that can be stacked into one switching-and-routing platform.

What does that look like? As of today, we’ve migrated more than half of all our production traffic to our Next-Gen Core routers. Those routers are a model of multi-vendor open architecture. The idea is to illustrate what open architecture looks like for us: not vendor locked-in but open for innovation beyond traditional means.

Our transition to open architecture is fostering collaboration opportunities, speeding innovation, and creating better experiences for customers.

Conclusion: the future is wide open

Open architecture is rapidly changing the way we innovate. It enables businesses to enhance development, agility, and the customer experience. By understanding its benefits and challenges, and adopting best practices for implementation, you can more effectively transition to open architecture. It will evolve your own network and connectivity technologies as it fosters growth.

Learn more about AT&T Business solutions at To connect with an expert who knows business, contact your AT&T Business representative.

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