Why Open? Behind OMF’s Unique Open-Source Model

March 23, 2021

MDS Architectural Landscape Series

Some people are surprised to hear that the Mobility Data Specification isn’t developed by the Open Mobility Foundation’s staff. That’s because it’s an open source tool. Rather than being developed by a single, central organization, the MDS specification evolves through the contributions of dozens of people from many different organizations. 

 

THE BENEFITS OF AN OPEN APPROACH

An open source approach to data specifications benefits cities and companies by creating a space for collaborative development, reducing costs, and nurturing a healthy, competitive ecosystem for mobility services and software tools.

Rather than being developed by a single, central organization, the MDS specification evolves through the contributions of many people, with more than 70 contributors so far. The OMF provides facilitation and a governance model that allows different stakeholders in the community to propose changes and to have those changes reviewed, critiqued, and improved by other community members. This collaborative space results in a better specification, one that’s been “stress tested” in advance by the people who will use it.

The open specification model reduces costs as well. It eliminates intellectual property license fees. More importantly, the existence of a widely adopted, free standard lowers costs by reducing the amount of bespoke software development that would otherwise be needed to satisfy unique integration requirements in every city and lowers barriers to interoperability between technology systems.

Lastly, the open model promotes a competitive ecosystem for software tools that cities buy. Too often, cities get locked into fully-integrated technology solutions that make it nearly impossible to switch vendors. This lock-in model often results in cities paying too much for stagnant or poor performing products. Because MDS is a common standard, a city can use one or more tools to work with MDS data, and can switch vendors with relative ease. This results in better products through healthy competition. The open specification model of MDS also encourages a more competitive mobility ecosystem by lowering the barrier to a new mobility provider entering a market. Instead of having to write custom APIs for each city, a new company can write for MDS and use it in all their markets, thus lowering their costs to compete.

These benefits of open source flow to the communities served by local governments. The open model gives local government a more effective tool to address local policy priorities, such as equitable access to services, increased safety for users of mobility services and other road users, and balanced use of public space. And it reduces the cost and complexity of implementing data-driven policies, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing more agile government. By lowering barriers to entry, the open approach encourages competition between service providers, thus driving down costs and encouraging services to launch in more markets.

 

The Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) community – our Board, staff, and members – set out on an ambitious mission this year: to define the growth trajectory for the Mobility Data Specification (MDS), outlining a product strategy and roadmap while defining the development process into the future.

The result was a comprehensive document we call the MDS Architectural Landscape. This post is the second in a three-part series about the architectural landscape where we explore why open source projects are good for public and private sector organizations. Other posts in the series explore the vision for MDS and what it means to co-create in an open source environment.

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