Enterprises are fast moving towards the mantra “open source first”. And why not? Moving to open source leads to faster innovation, increased agility, cost savings, faster time-to-market, enhanced code quality, improved developer retention and helps drive significant competitive business advantage. According to Gartner, 95% of mainstream IT organizations leverage non-trivial open source assets within their mission critical IT portfolios. But, open source adoption is not new. Enterprises have been leveraging open source since the late 1990s. So, what has changed now?
Open Source has definitely been mainstream for some time now. However, the reasons for open source adoption have been changing with the times. When open source emerged, perceived cost savings was the major reason for its adoption. With time, increased agility and flexibility became important factors. For some time now, enterprises have been utilizing open source, primarily, to drive innovation. Gone are the days when open source was adopted with the primary focus on reducing TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). Today, open source competes with proprietary software quite effectively on innovation, features, quality and security. Red Hat has been touted as one of the most innovative companies several times. Next generation companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix state publicly that they use open source to drive competitive business advantage. (Read more on “why open source?”)
So, how can other enterprises follow suit? It’s essential to start with the right strategy. Enterprises must realize that to unleash the power of open source in driving future growth, they must build an open source strategy that propels innovation. The open source strategy determines, to a large extent, the benefits realized from open source adoption. A key to successfully leveraging open source for enterprises is to determine the key objectives and resource requirements when implementing open source strategy.
There are three main pillars to an open source strategy – Culture, Governance & Investment (CGI). The way each of them are leveraged determines the different types of benefits achieved from Open Source strategy.
Collaborative innovation is key when it comes to open source. Developers contribute to open source for their own growth in terms of knowledge and profile. However, collaborating and contributing to open source helps incubate creative values and practices, and employees taking part in these activities are exposed to practical aspects of delivering innovation, such as transparent practices, open communication and reduction in hierarchy. It is then possible to emulate similar principles in an organization to create a more innovative culture. An important factor in creating this type of culture is to focus on how organization treats both feedback and failure. Organizations that celebrate failures are usually a lot more innovative, as they create and nurture an environment of trust and new opportunities.
Governance plays a critical role in open source adoption. It includes implementing policies and processes for obtaining, using, and contributing to open source software. Effective and efficient governance model and mechanisms (tools leveraged) determine, to a large extent, whether the enterprise fosters innovation or not. Governance mechanisms also determine the ease with which developers can contribute to communities and impacts community engagement, ecosystem management, knowledge transfer and consumption habits. Thus, governance is not independent of open source strategy but an important factor in driving the positive outcomes of open source adoption.
The last pillar, investment, consists of determining both the financial and human resource allocation required to achieve an enterprise’s open source-related goals. To execute an effective open source strategy, enterprises need to allocate the right level of funds and human resources. A critical mistake many organizations make is not investing enough in building a community when open sourcing their own software. A good rule of thumb today is, hiring two people for 18 months full time plus garnering the financial support required for attending and presenting at conferences, sponsorships, trainings, and direct engagement with peer organizations to get their commitment to participating in the project, etc. Developers must be allowed adequate time to contribute to projects. Such a practice also helps in recruiting and retaining top talent. Also, there should be investment in facilitating and promoting knowledge transfer.
Thus, enterprises must build an open source strategy tailored for innovation to unleash the full potential of open source and drive future growth.