by Jesús E. Gabaldón
Globalisation has allowed many countries to go further and far more quickly than they would otherwise have done. Low-paying jobs in developing countries provided by some large international companies may be regarded in the west as mere exploitation, but working for these companies may be regarded as a much better option than staying in the countryside and growing rice. Indeed, depending on the absolute and relative profit by the large enterprises this situation may still exacerbate the inequalities between the developing and developed countries.
The jobs in the third world, as well as in the first and second ones, are often organised in more or less structured groups of companies of different sizes, ranging from very small to mid size, and even some large companies. Most of them, however, are what we can call SMEs. Especially in developing countries, these companies cannot access the technological tools and facilities that the larger ones can. However, when the companies have the time necessary to get organised, their ensuing structure closely resembles that of a natural ecosystem.
How SMEs can benefit from the Digital Ecosystem's philosophy?
One of the main characteristics of structured communities as compared to unstructured ones is their ability to communicate with other entities, as well as to receive accurate information from the socio-economic environment. Both things may help anticipate business opportunities and negative conditions thus providing opportunities of growth and survival.
Despite some naive misconceptions, self-organisation does not spontaneously appear per se from scratch. On the contrary, it is necessary to provide adequate conditions; in the same way that seed does not germinate without water, and do not grow beyond the initial stage without mineral salts and some oligoelements.
It is necessary to provide at least a minimal technological basis in order to trigger social and economic development. This initial technological infrastructure must not handicap the growth, independent of expensive proprietary software policies.
Technological trends in Digital Ecosystems
Interdisciplinary research in some fields is helping immensely in far away fields. In a similar way to how viruses quickly and effectively spread by using the complex cellular machinery of the host population, SMEs can benefit from the infrastructures deployed by large enterprises and public bodies. Such infrastructures, like Internet, are often expensive and complex, but they can benefit both large and small companies. What really makes a difference is preserving the asymmetry in the distribution of information and resources; in essence, access to and control of information.
Therefore, usually the cleverest approach by SMEs is to take advantage of the present technological infrastructures, instead of trying to develop and deploy their own ones from their own resources and technologies. These infrastructures already exist; they have been developed to help large holdings, trusts, and even public administrations to grow and consolidate their internal organisation. In spite of some attempts at control of information, these technological infrastructures are now widely spread out and democratised. In this way, the use of standards initiatives and open source software technologies will ensure that anyone, at least in the short term, has the possibility to enjoy almost the same facilities that just a few years ago were only accessible to a few large international companies.
OPAALS is making significant progress in the development of telecommunication technologies by broadening access for SMEs in a wide spectrum of countries, from the third to the first world, by giving them access to complex technological communication tools, and providing distributed collaborative applications on its Open Knowledge Space such as Sironta (http://www.sironta.com). Sironta is based on standard protocols and technologies like OSGi and XMPP, enabling the latter a direct access to public network layers such as Google Talk (Jabber), etc. This strategy has enabled the fast growth of successful ICT initiatives like Skype, in that they use the already available telecommunication networks and infrastructures.