Open source is transforming how enterprise software is developed and consumed. The collaborative approach to developing applications has been around a long time, but has matured enormously in recent years, and is now being embraced more and more widely. When companies accept the power of community and let go of a little control, they learn that open source broadens the range of ideas and talent that can contribute to any corporate software project, with often stunningly effective results.
In this COVID-19 era, as every company aims to become more resilient and capable of continuing under adverse circumstances, there are morereasons than ever to embrace open source technologies and methods. When companies are just trying to ensure their IT runs, many transformational initiatives have been cancelled or put on hold. In numerous conversations, IT executives tell me they want to do more than just make sure their companies operate, they want to use the pandemic as a catalyst for much needed change. With open source, you can do that; create a leaner, more innovative and responsive entity by embracing open source for its well-known ability to reduce the price of development and operations. However, open source in no way reduces a company’s ability to innovate rapidly to address new challenges and opportunities. Open source is a tool for now. Here’s why.
1: Open Source retains talent.
The best people want to work with the latest and greatest technologies and in a collaborative manner and that’s open source. So taking this approach can help companies address one of the most widespread corporate challenges—attracting and retaining top software engineers. A huge global community of developers is already committed to the open source movement, and it’s growing at a torrid pace. GitHub, the central repository of open source code and an essential resource for programmers, serves more than 40 million technologists, 10 million more than last year, with 80% of the contributors coming from outside North America. Microsoft, once militantly opposed, recognized the transformational impact on open source to its customers when it spent $7.5 billion to buy GitHub in 2018.
Using open source helps companies find and keep great engineers because the most talented programmers believe in the open source world and enjoy working on open source projects. Among Wipro’s clients, 70% of IT executives say a major reason they’ve done so is to attract and retain technical talent.
2: Enterprises can take the process further with “inner source.”
It’s clear you can source and create superb software if you tap into the vast library of pre-existing software components as well as the huge enthusiastic community of open source developers. At Wipro, we’re excited about the closely-related phenomenon we call “inner source.” That means software developed inside a company using open source development techniques. Companies that “inner source” create internal networks of shared code, and develop a culture of collaboration and collective code ownership. This kind of environment makes many engineers very happy, helps reduce support costs, improves code quality and security, and drives more innovation.
Our clients say they like to take open source components and customize them to their own needs. We call this secondary innovation, or taking existing open source innovation and adding your own features and functionality. You cannot do this with proprietary code.
As IT departments consume and modify open source in a more transparent and collaborative manner, they begin to think of things they’d never thought of before. Innovation is accelerated. A “fail fast” culture emerges—if it doesn’t work right away, move on; it’s no big deal. Other benefits of inner source are technology standardization and reduction in support costs, and improved security due to more rapidly identified and remediated issues.
3: Open source increases productivity and speeds up progress.
One of Wipro’s clients speaks about ‘day one productivity’ when it hires open source programmers. Those engineers can be productive almost from day one because they come with key skills already in place. They learned open source coding before they arrived. That’s a stark contrast to the typical situation, when a big company relies more on packaged software it has customized to its own needs. In such environments, developers can take from three to six months to become truly productive.
Many companies are recognizing the value of open source. Eight of the world’s largest financial institutions recently formed the Fintech Open Source Foundation (FinOS) to “accelerate collaboration and innovation in financial services.” The members realized that by creating common shared libraries of code, they could do much more together than alone. Wipro has been involved in the effort from its early stages.
Separately, Capital One, a company Wipro has worked with for more than a decade, calls itself “an open source first organization.” Its Hygieia open source project (named after the Greek goddess of health and hygiene) offers a single dashboard to track the “health” of its entire internal software delivery pipeline. But Capital One extended its open approach so other companies could participate, and now a powerful group of major companies—American Airlines, Ford, T-Mobile, and Verizon to name a few—have joined the project. Wipro is the only global systems integrator participating in this ecosystem.
4: Customization is easier.
Some big companies resist open source because they worry about security, IP, and license issues. They believe they can acquire or produce better and more secure software on their own. Wipro encountered one company whose IT leadership insisted that no one could create something tailored for financial services firms as well as they could. However, after spending just two hours with the company’s development team, we discovered that for 11 of the 15 applications they wanted to open source, better alternatives already existed on GitHub.
Another company proudly informed us that it had no open source software in the application it used to test other applications for security issues. When we looked, however, we found more than 170 open source components. Open source has deeply penetrated the enterprise, and not in small numbers; typically to the tune of thousands of components. The good thing is there are many methods, processes, and tools to help automate the governance and compliance process.
5: It really is cheaper.
Because of the shared efforts of a global community of programmers and supporting commercial interests that have been working for years, there are many mature “enterprise-worthy” open source technologies available at significantly reduced cost compared to proprietary alternatives. Committing to open source allows a company to extract costs from the development process, yet still invest in things that are important, notably innovation-related efforts. Maybe you want to put more of your customer-facing applications on the public cloud, or want to modernize your internal applications or infrastructure. Open source allows you to do this and still positively influence the balance sheet.
6: Open Source increases organizational flexibility in times of crisis.
When everything inside and outside of companies is topsy-turvy, open source provides many advantages. These days, you hear a lot about working from home. Distributed working—people contributing whenever they can from wherever they are—is the foundation of the open source community! If your company was already using open source when the coronavirus crisis erupted, your engineering teams were able to be more flexible in how they responded.
The most resilient organizations are the ones most attuned to open source culture. In a recent study by GitHub regarding developer productivity and COVID-19, some of the more interesting findings are:
- “…issues in enterprise repositories rise and fall around COVID-19 outbreaks and shelter-in-place orders.” This is highly likely because of the forced move to a more distributed development model.
- “… open source projects have seen a spike in activity.” Clearly, developers are collaborating more.
There are both immediate and potentially far-reaching implications of the collection of changes GitHub has observed. Chief among them is the fact that enterprises should support the move to a more collaborative and distributed development model to address the challenges imposed by the pandemic; clearly, their developers are figuring out how to make it work. And although humans are social beings, and need face-to-face interactions to thrive, it is now more clear than ever that the brick and mortar developer model is not absolutely required to produce high-quality software.
Yes, open source still remains a less expensive way to acquire enterprise-caliber software, but its true benefits are its ability to facilitate innovation, improve code quality, remediate security issues, and keep developers happy. You may come for the money, but you’ll stay for everything else!
Andrew Aitken is the GM & Global Open Source Practice leader for Wipro Technologies.