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Embracing Open Source for Greater Business Impact

Adopting an open source culture can increase participation within the broader open source community, as well as improved developer and employee experience.
Aug 17th, 2022 2:01pm by
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Open source is the bedrock of the technology industry. Although most enterprises today focus on proprietary code, almost all organizations today benefit in some way from open source principles. Open source is about more than just code — adopting a culture centered around open source can affect a number of core areas within a business that extends far beyond the code itself.

Traci Robinson-Williams
Traci is market insights lead at GitLab focused on driving DevOps transformation by translating market, technology and customer insights into actions that influence the direction of GitLab’s platform strategy and roadmap. As a technology go-to-market strategist, she specializes in bringing teams together to execute innovative ways to approach industry challenges.

Gartner recently reported that 70% of enterprises will increase IT spending on open source software through 2026. And it’s no surprise why: Open source can help organizations innovate faster and more securely, ultimately driving a faster time to market. This in turn provides more flexible, interoperable products and a better, more robust digital experience for customers. Some of the most impactful technologies today have roots in open source and now return massive business successes.

But building an open source culture is about more than just implementing open source software. When done properly, it can extend to increased contribution and participation within the broader open source community, as well as improved developer and employee experience through the adoption of open source principles within the enterprise.

Open source has the potential to truly differentiate your organization from its competition and drive transformation and innovation both internally and within your industry. But to maximize your investment of time, people and money, organizations must create a strategic and intentional program to center open source innovation.

Let’s walk through the three-pronged approach that all organizations can take to implement and build on an open source program.

Finding (and Defining) Your Why 

To communicate the value of an open source program to leadership and other internal stakeholders, it’s critical to identify why this program is necessary at all, by defining the value it will bring to the business. Start with defining why you’re building this program and its projected growth. This should include specific goals and metrics — lay out your objectives and outline clearly how you will deliver the return on your investment.

Be sure to regularly check in on the progress of these goals and metrics, and report back on how you’re meeting your objectives. This reporting will ensure that you’re consistently reevaluating and recentering your goals. This foundation of strong communication will help establish credibility with all stakeholders, and this information can be repurposed for potential partners, users and developers.

You may also consider setting up a dedicated open source program office to help you achieve your strategy and your goals. All communication plans to leadership should include a robust risk management approach to secure their sponsorship and the necessary resources.

Creating a Culture of Open Source 

Metrics are only one measure of success, however — it’s integral to keep community development central to all discussions about integrating open source. When creating goals around open source, it’s important to consider the value it can bring, both to your business and to external communities.

Some other dimensions to consider when developing open source plans are your organization’s participation in the open source community, its resulting influence and reputation, as well as the health of your organization, its open source projects, and any projects you contribute to externally.

It’s impossible to truly invest in open source without also making larger shifts to your company’s culture. Transparency and collaboration are two major values to ensure are woven into your organization’s ethos. According to McKinsey, organizations that allow their software teams to experiment and embrace failure — key tenants of open source methodology — consistently deliver better results.

It may be a challenge to convince internal stakeholders to champion the open source ethos and work as advocates within the community. While that work may not directly affect the company’s product, your organization will ultimately benefit from the wide net of contributors.

Giving Back to the Community 

Most importantly, don’t forget to participate in the virtuous cycle of contributing and reaping. Seek out great projects to contribute to, and seek out opportunities to contribute upstream. For example, GitLab works closely with the FINOS (FinTech Open Source) Foundation’s Legend project, which is led by Goldman Sachs. Legend is deployed using GitLab for modeling source control and is fully available to the open source community for further innovation within the financial service industry. This has helped simplify processes and increase efficiencies, which further strengthens institutions and the customers they serve.

Gabriele Columbro, FINOS executive director, has watched this niche community of open source in financial services contributors grow to critical mass over the past five years.

“FINOS members working together like Goldman Sachs and GitLab on an open source project is more than just a vendor-client relationship. The work that they have done alongside community members on this one project has impacted other open source projects in the foundation and has demonstrated clear results. Legend is used to advance the modeling of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association Common Domain Model (ISDA CDM) and integrate with the Morgan Stanley open source Morphir project to further collaborative work in financial regulation,” she said.

“Other open source projects led by FINOS financial institutions have found touch points with Legend that continue to help the wider community. Open source opens doors to so many opportunities, especially if you give back to the community.”

There’s immense value and potential innovation within the promise of open source, and endless ways to implement these principles into your business. Everyone within your organization and community has a valuable part to play and great ideas to contribute, whether it’s an employee within your company, an external contributor, a customer or even a competitor. When consumers become contributors, everyone wins.

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