Open source: 5 surprising advantages for enterprises

Here's how some organizations leverage open source in unexpected ways to manage today's thorny business challenges - ranging from talent retention to resilience
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Today’s business leaders face enormous pressure from markets, competition, and the current pandemic, which is radically changing the way we do business and engage with customers. Organizations need to adapt, imagine new revenue models, innovate as never before, and attract a new generation of talent to fuel this evolution and help the business stay relevant.

In the last few decades, organizations large and small have started leveraging the benefits of open source at unprecedented levels. Because open source software development enables people from multiple locations, cultures, backgrounds, organizations, even motivations to work together on common projects, organizations are doing surprising things with it. Let’s explore a few.

[ How can open source help with issues of agility, cost, and security? Read also: 8 advantages of using open source in the enterprise. ]

1. Open innovation

About a year ago, I was discussing open source and innovation with a lawyer who specialized in the legal aspects of open source. He jokingly said that because of open source, lawyers have less business.

He was referring to the fact that organizations now conduct complex open innovation processes without the need for lawyers, NDAs, or strict IP protection perimeters. It’s simple: Publish your code as open source and encourage your competition, your partners, and your ecosystem, to contribute. You’ll end up with a super-efficient open innovation engine. A European multinational financial services company pointed this out when it open-sourced its core insurance processing backbone. 

[ Want more data? Read also: 10 compelling stats on the state of enterprise open source for IT leaders. ]

Executive takeaway: If you haven’t already, establish an Open Source Program Office (OSPO) or equivalent structure, or simply identify open source champions to energize your innovation model and stay a step ahead of your competition. Your OSPO can help your organization with talent acquisition, product attractivity, and more.

2. User-centricity

Open source is the ultimate user-focused development engine. Why? Because your users will imagine, propose, and sometimes even build for you, features in your products that your internal marketing team might never have imagined.

Innovation will happen thanks to your users if you give them the chance. They will help you make the product they want to use.

Remember the quote from American computer engineer and venture capitalist, Bill Joy: “Innovation happens elsewhere.” It will happen thanks to your users if you give them the chance. They will help you make the product they want to use. For example, consider enterprise software like Hygieia, originally developed by a bank holding company. End users – often corporate developers – add features such as connectors for their own environment and tools directly as they need them; no need to wait for the first developer to build them in. Similarly, for consumer or desktop products, individual developers contribute the features they want, sometimes as a fork that gets merged back in time.

Executive takeaway: Your product management team can leverage open source contributions to implement a “voice of the customer” that directly maps to product enhancements. Make sure you engage with them and identify the best way to support them.

3. Distributed agile

Today, the naturally distributed model of open source development (and its inside-the-corporate-firewall version, inner source) is being used to build more efficient distributed agile teams. In particular, open source allows silos created by the agile model to be integrated through collaboration on a common code base.

Executive takeaway: Drive more efficiency in your development teams by implementing policies, procedures, and tools to enable distributed workforces, shared code repositories, and VPN access, and to foster a distributed development culture like inner source.

4. Resilience

Open source team members can continue functioning in a perfectly resilient mode from wherever they are located.

For geographically distributed development teams, a situation like the current pandemic can have a disastrous impact on productivity. In contrast, inner source or open source team members can continue functioning in a perfectly resilient mode from wherever they are located. As GitHub reported in a May 2020 study, open source projects with developers located around the globe haven’t slowed significantly as a result of COVID-19.

Executive takeaway: Put your company back on its original product development track by leveraging the natural resilience inherent to distributed open source and inner source.

5. Talent acquisition and retention

Smart organizations use open source to attract the best talent. Contributing to visible open source projects, publishing your own code as open source, and communicating openly about this on targeted social media platforms are also great ways to keep talent in house.

[ What open source skills are hot now? Read also: Open source IT jobs by the numbers: 13 statistics. ]

Executive takeaway: Work with your HR team and your OSPO to leverage open source activities that will attract talented developers.

The vast majority of organizations leveraging open source in their regular activities see significant benefits every day. The innovation, resilience, talent attraction, and retention benefits of open source often outweigh the cost advantages that first attract many organizations.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Gilles is Director in the Open Source Consulting Practice and a member of the internal blockchain council at Wipro. Based in Geneva, Switzerland, he provides open source and blockchain strategy consulting and advisory services to Wipro's key customers worldwide.