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FIWARE: how the EU and giants like Telefonica or IBM are wasting €100 million and entrepreneurs’ time

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Written by Jaime Novoa

Private and publicly funded FIWARE has become a waste of entrepreneurs’ time, creating more headaches than solving problems. We’ve talked to developers about this.

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The European Union and a consortium of multinationals like Telefonica, Thales or IBM launched FIWARE in 2014, a set of open source and API-enabled tools for developers interested in building “smart applications in multiple vertical sectors”.

The project, which was launched with much fanfare and a €100 million budget, was criticised by many in the industry, as it was -and still is- viewed as a waste of public money and a somewhat useless effort from giants like Telefonica.

As Mike Butcher put it in this article from March of last year, “FIWARE produces prototypes based on largely dead technologies which go nowhere. It does not create value, economic development or successful startups and entrepreneurs”, he argued. “It all looks like a simple front for Telefonica and the EU to look like they are ‘doing something’”.

And indeed, it appears like FIWARE is turning out to be a waste of public money and entrepreneur’s time.

There are various faces to the FIWARE initiative. The main one is FIWARE, the set of APIs that are there for developers to use to create prototypes of “smart city” apps. These applications can be developed at FIWARE’s various hackathons (with prizes that range from €56K to €145K) and winning participants will receive feedback from experts in the field and other developers that also use the platform.

Then there’s also FIWARE Lab (“a non-commercial sandbox environment where innovation and experimentation based on FIWARE technologies take place”), FIWARE Ops (“a collection of tools that eases the deployment, setup and operation of FIWARE instances by Platform Providers”), FIWARE Accelerate (an €80 million acceleration program that aims to “promote the take up of FIWARE technologies among solution integrators and app developers”) and FIWARE Mundus (“a program designed to bring coverage to this effort engaging local ICT players and other players from different parts of the world”).

One of FIWARE’s main components is its acceleration program, which is the result of partnerships with various European accelerators. One of the best examples is IMPACT Accelerator, a program launched by Barcelona-based ISDI, Buongiorno, Teknologiudviking ApS and Madrid-based Venture Capital firm Seaya Ventures.

Startups chosen by IMPACT must use FIWARE in some shape or form to develop their own products and services, and will receive a €100,000 investment in return -no startup equity is given up- and help from its vast group of mentors.

While various developers we have talked to claim that IMPACT and its mentors have been useful, when FIWARE gets in the middle, it all breaks down.

FIWARE: a waste of startup’s time

According to a couple of developers who wish to remain anonymous and who have participated in various FIWARE-related projects, “it’s all a waste of time”.

The problems with the initiative are vast and start with the lack of concrete and useful explanations from FIWARE’s advocates. “I recently attended one of their talks and FIWARE’s very own developers were not able to respond to most of our questions”, a source says.

Most say that FIWARE’s documentation is far from complete and help from their evangelists is not what they expected. “Most of the answers to our questions are far from useful”, one source says. “IMPACT’s organizers don’t understand FIWARE and their own devs don’t sit down with us very often. Instead they ask us to go to events where they will explain how it all works, but this is a waste of time”.

These same sources claim that the worst of all is that IMPACT and other accelerators “force teams to use a set of APIs and tools that don’t add any value to our projects. It’s a distraction and a way to lose focus”.

We have talked to multiple developers and startups and nobody has met anyone who has successfully used FIWARE to their own benefit. “There’s no community behind it, it has no history and it doesn’t solve any problem that startups might have in their day to day operations”, another source says. “The open source movement doesn’t need these kind of efforts when there are things like Hadoop that already work very well and have a strong community behind them”.

Many see FIWARE as a way for Telefonica and others (like the accelerators) to promote themselves and justify vast and lucrative budgets. I’ve also argued numerous times that firms like Seaya Ventures and others must have joined the game to improve their deal flow, with very little knowledge of how FIWARE works and how it impacts startups.

What seems clear is that very few people are benefitting from this and FIWARE’s public-private initiative is creating more headaches than solving actual problems. “Instead of forcing us to use FIWARE, I wish we’d have the freedom of choosing how to use our time”, a source says.

As we said at the time, most startups applied to IMPACT to get €100,000 of free capital. What they probably didn’t know is how much of a pain it’d be to use FIWARE. A waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of public (EU) and private (Telefonica, IBM, etc) resources.

Photo | PublicDomainArchive

About the author

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Jaime Novoa

Jaime Novoa is the Founder of Novobrief.

He is a technology writer turned investor at Madrid's K Fund. He was also a data analyst at Tech.eu.

7 Comments

  • Thanks Jaime for this “insights” and your opinion about this matter. You summarize, that all this giants from Europe, including corporates, government, European Commission, Startups and Accelerators, are all totally blind and since years have no glue how to do it “right”? You conclude, that Butcher have discovered deep miracles, as he reported in 2014, that this efforts are all waste of money. I suppose, you follow up with your investigations, and talk to the thousands of people involved in this framework in the last years, who made great and succesful efforts to build this open source framework library. This may result in a more balanced and positive, fact-based database on your side, which give you the chance to report about this topic more transparent and credible. Otherwise, your reports is waste of time – yours and ours.

    • Hi Olaf, I’m a developer and trying to decide whether to use FIWARE or not. I’m still not convinced, because it all looks a little bit messy. Could you point me to a couple of successful FIWARE usage?

      For example, as a developer, why should I use the FIWARE dashboard (https://www.fiware.org/devguides/creating-application-dashboards/) instead of one of the many well-supported open source projects available on github? Or how FIWARE cloud is different from other cloud providers such as AWS, Google, Red Hat, Heroku and others? Or, again, why should I use a FIWARE authentication enabler (http://catalogue.fiware.org/enablers/pep-proxy-wilma) instead of my framework ones, especially since it only authenticates FIWARE accounts?

      If i look at the documentation pages it all looks a little bit fuzzy and I’m worried by the lack of technical community around the whole project (especially when compared to other projects).

      • Hello Davide! Thx for this question! I fully understand, that the software tools and kits you are using today, are all much more convenient and easy to use. Why you should try other things? The world and the human behavior is not like this, i fully understand your position. However, if you make efforts and try out new technologies, this might give you new perspectives and opportunities. But first, it will sucks. It will be somehow harmful, and it will be a big effort. So, why you should go for this?

        One potential reason is curiosity. It might be interesting to understand why the architecture of all these software components are like this, and how this refers to a broader vision. You might experience, that the participation in this new ecosystem will raise new questions and potentially give you a new perspective. Innovation is always painful, and the adaption of technologies needs early adopters.

        Another potential benefit is that you can get access to new markets via the FIWARE Ecosystem. As the very generic and global approach is aiming to create a standard, this might bring you into the position to offer products and services via the marketplaces we provide globally.

        I suppose to get you in contact with some developers and startups already using the software components and you my learn from their experiences? Some more handsome and technical sessions may support your willingness to try it out?

        Lets keep in contact!

        • HI Olaf, I have to agree with Davide. I have been perusing quite in depth the FIWARE and FI-CONTENT offer because I participated to many FI-CONTENT contests and a few Horizon2020 grants, and was amazed by the huge footprint most of those technologies use to do something that other providers replicate way more efficiently. I speak from the point of view of a technical entrepreneur who has the need to quickly and efficiently assess a technology, and to create a pipeline of FIWARE enablers that would actually allow me to see if they are any good, took me many days of frustration troubleshooting installations, trying to find scraps of info in often insufficient documentation – hunting down elusive lines of code while my time should be better spent in working on my own product instead of divining if I can use some code that is supposed to “enable” me. It’s frustrating and almost dishonest to say the least.
          Most of the technologies I have perused _do not have realistic use cases if at all_ and _do not speak in clear terms what they actually do, how they hold up, their performance, their limitations, what do they do better compared to established services_. I have just spent 1 hour compiling an enabler (and just because I could recycle a virtual machine that had prepared in the past days for *another* enabler. Why couldn’t the compiled WARs have been uploaded with the source code? some enabler maintainers do so, sometimes they even offer Docker or Vagrant virtual machines, why is there NO standard to provide the code?) – to discover that what it does is way less than it writes on the tin – or maybe to actually achieve what I thought it would do, I have to dig into the code to find if maybe is an undocumented feature. By the way, the documentation of such enabler were just a few example links. I think that the FIWARE initiative as it is misses the spirit of offering handy, small-footprint, reliable building blocks for the real “future internet”. As they are, they look like an academic proof of concept for mainstream problems that have been very successfully solved 5 years ago or more, or niche vertical explorations of specialized application.

          The EU should have used their Revenue Settlement and Sharing System Enabler to make sure that all FIWARE providers were compensated according to the actual usage of their tools ….. I am rather convinced that we’d have better documentation and better overall performance and coverage.

          As it is, the usage of FIWARE/FI-CONTENT is mostly to access the accellerators and their money, hoping that not too many man-hours are spent into integrating such technologies in a way that does not _hamper_ the startups in their global competition.

          It’s a pity.

  • I would like to confirm based on my experiences, a waste of time and money for many startups. Really impatient to see a report on the real Fiware results produced by an independant organisation. Results about successful startups still using the software foundation of Fiware and the state of the different software projects within the open source community and as commercial product.