How open-source solutions and low-code development empower digital sovereignty

By making software development accessible to a broader range of users, low code and open-source solutions can enhance digital sovereignty and interoperability.

As businesses and society at large become more dependent on data, they are also becoming more dependent on foreign countries. This is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that 92% of the data generated in the western world is stored on servers in the US. Moreover, as the sheer volume of data continues to grow, it is becoming less feasible to move it to other platforms in other countries. Herein lies the growing emphasis on digital sovereignty – the idea that people and organizations should have control and ownership of their own data.

Digital sovereignty has become a top priority in the internet age. This is because data is largely subject to the laws and regulations of the jurisdiction it is collected and stored in. The principle of digital sovereignty is perhaps best exemplified by the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which establishes the key requirements for the handling of data pertaining to EU citizens all over the world. Even though the EU has no jurisdiction over third countries, it can still enforce these rules via mechanisms such as a foreign company’s presence or assets in EU territory or international law. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has a similar scope and purpose – itself an outcome of the growing global influence of GDPR.

On an individual level, digital sovereignty is about giving people ownership of their data and the right to control its use, as well as request its deletion. The same applies at the corporate level, since organizations cannot guarantee adherence to legislation like GDPR if they do not have knowledge of or control over where their data physically resides.

The current situation is especially problematic for countries like EU member states, because European organizations almost invariably depend on services delivered from the US and apps hosted on US-based servers. For example, every web address or email address with the .com extension ultimately remains under the jurisdiction of US law, simply because the domain is operated by Virginia-based company VeriSign. Digital sovereignty holds that countries, much like businesses and individuals, should ultimately have control over their own digital destinies.

How open-source empowers digital sovereignty and interoperability

According to a Okta’s 2021 Business at Work report, businesses now use an average of 88 apps, with larger enterprises deploying around 175. The most popular apps and platforms in the workplace include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft 365, Zoom, and DocuSign, all of which are headquartered in the US. Even though all the major cloud providers have global infrastructures, they cannot guarantee complete digital sovereignty. For example, legislation in the US allows the government to access, under certain circumstances, data stored by US technology companies, regardless of where it physically resides.

The vast majority of today’s enterprise computing environments rely heavily on closed-source solutions, such as those mentioned above, even if they are themselves hosted on servers that run the open-source Linux operating system. That almost all of these solutions are delivered by or rely on US-based technology companies means that digital sovereignty is practically impossible to achieve in a closed-source world. This is why open source has played a central role in fostering digital sovereignty ever since its inception in the late 90s. It is also why almost all of the world’s data centers and supercomputers run a custom Linux distribution.

There is far more to open source than just code and technology. It is a mindset, and one that is perhaps best summarized by software giant Red Hat in five core principles: open exchange, participation, meritocracy, community, and release early and often. Thanks to these principles, open source has digital sovereignty built in, simply because they both follow the same agenda. In other words, open source gives organizations complete ownership of their software which, in turn, empowers them to meet the goals and demands of digital sovereignty.

The problem with today’s digital infrastructure is that it is largely built on a network of solutions provided by the world’s largest tech companies. These often closed ecosystems are guarded against open and public innovation and, all too often, are mired in government or corporate surveillance.

On a global scale, this has pushed many countries, particularly those in the developing world, into trading their digital independence for modernization or, in some cases, self-imposed digital isolation. The same applies to organizations across all industries, which may find themselves faced with the choice of being beholden to certain vendors or developing their own solutions from scratch at great cost.

Digital sovereignty also goes hand-in-hand with interoperability, which is vital for delivering an equitable technology environment. This is also a top priority for the EU which, for example, recently introduced a new rule forcing phone manufacturers selling their phones in the EU to support universal USB-C charging solutions. Unsurprisingly, this inspired swift condemnation from Apple – one of the world’s major closed-ecosystem technology companies – which uses its proprietary Lightning connector. The same, of course, applies to Apple’s iOS and macOS platforms, which are entirely closed ecosystems compared to Linux-based Google Android.

 For consumers, this lack of interoperability is not so much of a problem. For example, Apple continues to maintain its exclusive image simply because many of their customers only use iPhones and MacBooks. But for business users, the lack of interoperability of closed-source ecosystems is increasingly problematic given the growing complexity of technology and the need to support an ever-wider range of end users. After all, not many businesses can afford to operate in a bubble. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why even Microsoft has been working towards delivering better support for and interoperability with Linux.

Open-source is essential for empowering interoperability and digital sovereignty for nonprofits, businesses, and governments alike. It has thus become essential in the digitization of both the public and private sectors and for driving innovation in a constantly changing digital-first world.

Bringing digital sovereignty to the masses with low-code development

Despite the fact that open source software already plays an integral role in business computing behind the scenes, in that it typically powers the servers delivering cloud-hosted apps, smaller organizations still have a long way to go to achieve complete digital sovereignty. For example, Amazon Web Services (AWS), despite being one of the world’s largest technology providers, uses its own variant of Linux to power its cloud services.

Of course, not many companies have a need to develop their own operating systems, but all organizations have their own unique goals and needs, which cannot always be addressed with off-the-shelf software. Even where off-the-shelf software does offer a viable solution, the issue of digital sovereignty is often quick to rear its head, especially in the case of platforms handling highly sensitive data – such as patient management systems in healthcare.

It is often said that every company is now a technology company, but that does not mean they all have in-house software development teams developing bespoke applications. Outsourcing custom software development is a possible alternative, but this approach comes with its own set of challenges, such as issues with collaboration and poor quality control.

Thanks to the union of open-source software and low-code software development, companies now have the opportunity to develop their own bespoke solutions without being restricted by vendor lock-in. Achieving digital sovereignty no longer need be a luxury that only the world’s most powerful businesses and governments can enjoy. Low-code platforms can also make it accessible to citizen developers – business users who have little or no software development and coding expertise of their own.

For mission-critical applications, it is vital that companies be able to apply their own expertise, as well as retain full control over their operational infrastructure and data. Thanks to low-code, they can achieve these goals by building on the past work of industry experts and making it their own – without all the complexity of traditional software development. This self-sufficient approach also enables them to keep their operations and infrastructure independent from any one technology provider, thus avoiding the problem of vendor lock-in.

What makes a low-code platform truly open?

For any software to be classified as open source, its source code must be freely available to the general public. This means that anyone with the necessary programming skills is allowed to modify the code in any way they wish. Perhaps the best known example is the Linux kernel, whose open source nature has led to the development of more than 600 unique distributions and hundreds more in active development. Furthermore, software companies can themselves use open-source software as a foundation for their own products, which they can then use for commercial purposes. In the case of LCDPs, this means such companies can develop their own software much faster to satisfy specific client needs.

There is much more to open-source software than having the ability to freely modify the source code. Because open-source software is freely available, it also helps overcome interoperability issues and avoid vendor lock-in. Developers of open-source software prioritize interoperability through the use of APIs and open programming standards.

This is also true of any low-code LCDP. As such, companies using an open-source LCDP can enjoy better cross-departmental and cross-company collaboration incorporating both business professionals and experienced software developers. This is what makes LCDPs a no-brainer for any enterprise developing their own bespoke software solutions.

The complete lack of vendor lock-in that is inherent to an open-source LCDP also means that organizations are free to host it on any platform they want. For example, they can host it in a public or private cloud, in an internal data center, or a colocation facility without having to worry about high data egress fees of moving from one vendor to another. They also have the freedom to choose who will support their platform and provide any necessary consultancy services – whether internal or external.

These benefits, in turn, leads to an entirely open ecosystem whereby the organizations using the open-source LCDP can achieve total digital sovereignty and the freedom to collaborate with the wider community.

Who benefits from digital sovereignty?

The concept of digital sovereignty holds that every individual, organization, and government should have control over their own data and digital destiny. As such, the advantages of digital sovereignty extend to all.

That being said, there are certain industries for which digital sovereignty is a practical, ethical, or even a jurisdictional necessity. For example, sectors like smart cities and urban planning rely on highly complex, interconnected technology environments. Because of this, they must take an API-centric approach and avoid vendor lock-in at all costs, especially in cases where those vendors are located in other jurisdictions. The same is true of critical infrastructure, government, and military – sectors that clearly need full control over the technology assets they are becoming increasingly reliant on. This need has been exemplified by several high-profile cases, such as the UK’s banning of Chinese technology giant Huawei in the country’s 5G infrastructure.

Other industries where digital sovereignty is vital are those that handle highly sensitive and regulated data, such as finance, legal, and healthcare. Such data typically needs to be stored in the same jurisdiction as the people it pertains to.

Supply chain management is yet another area where sovereignty is crucial, simply because it gives organizations greater visibility over increasingly large and complex supply chains, which would otherwise be ungovernable. 

Final words

An open-source LCDP combines the inherent benefits of open-source software for maintaining digital sovereignty while making software development accessible to business users rather than just programmers. This way, organizations can maintain control over their digital destinies without having to maintain costly in-house software development teams. And, because open-source software is supported by the community rather than a single party, there is no risk of vendor lock-in.

A truly open-source platform permits unlimited importing and exporting of applications and data, simply because the end user has complete ownership over the code. This is what makes the combination of low code and open source the undeniable future of software and a key enabler of digital sovereignty.

Planet Crust is the creator and driving force behind Corteza, a 100% open-source low-code software development platform that lets you import data from any source and use intuitive drag-and-drop tools to create custom applications for your unique business needs. Get started for free today.

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