Monday, December 5, 2016

Rationale for Actively Managing OSS

Open Source Software is at this point ubiquitous in most every industry.  Our clients with any sort of technology footprint are likely reliant on OSS to some significant degree whether they realize it or not.  The relevant risk calculation probably depends on the extent an organization's competitive advantage is tied up in a technology centric product or service.  So here are a few points to consider when consulting with clients or evaluating your own business:

  1. If your client develops software of any type as part of normal operations they need to understand that the best programmers are going to gravitate toward certain OSS platforms and code modules to solve common problems - why reinvent the wheel?  Alternatives such as purchasing commercial software for everything can get expensive.  Insisting that technical talent build everything from scratch, even for functions which are largely a commodity, can be extremely de-motivating and put an organization at a competitive disadvantage.  Modern collegiate and specialized development training programs often place OSS tools and components at the core of their curriculum and rightly so.  The days of insisting all software development remain strictly an internal endeavor without any outside influence in order to maintain purity of intellectual property are largely over.
  2. Since OSS is likely already present, choices involve the degree to which it is actively managed.  Completely unmanaged OSS use and proliferation can put a client's IP and associated revenue streams at risk through a judgment for damages or more likely an injunction order.  Additionally, unmanaged co-mingling of code makes it extremely difficult when preparing for a change of control event associated with divestiture or acquisition.
  3. Finally our rationale should consider the multiple of benefits of an efficient, actively managed OSS governance process.  Specifically:
    • Decreased time to market is often possible if technical resources can focus creative energies on market differentiating features rather than commodity functionality which any competitor can easily acquire.
    • Higher quality and more secure code is often available with thoughtful consideration for choosing OSS platforms and components from active and well managed software communities.  Let's face it, a large complex piece of code with thousands of critical eyeballs invested in its success is by nature going to be of better quality than any purely internal project produced by even the largest, most professional of organizations.
    • Attraction and retention of top talent is a goal of most companies and technology resources are often hard to keep over the long term without substantial investment in their careers.  A well run OSS governance program enables constant evolution of skills vital to a developer's career without requiring a job change every couple of years.  The benefits on this front cannot be over estimated.
    • All of the above can lead to a lower total cost of ownership for most any technology driven capability.  The benefits are tangible and largely measurable which is crucial when building  the business case for investment in active OSS governance programs.
While a discussion like this can never be exhaustive and will certainly vary by industry, I hope this has provided some good food for thought.

As always, thoughtful comments and questions are welcome.

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