EXPERT ADVICE

Open Source Best Practices for Corporate IT

Open source as a phenomenon has been around for quite a few years, tracing its roots to Tim O’Reilly who is often credited with popularizing the term and the concept back in 1998 by introducing it at one of his eponymous conferences.

Since its early inception open source has been embraced by technologists the world over, despite some major software vendors attempting to compete with it in its early days. However, with the relatively recent purchase of GitHub by Microsoft, open source has truly gone mainstream, and even competitors have decided to join the community rather than attempt to compete against it.

Let’s examine five ways that Fortune 1000 and Forbes Global 2000 enterprises can take advantage of open source software to provide technology solutions to the enterprise — and best practices for corporate IT to consider when adopting open source for their business needs.

Drive IT Innovation

The first key best practice for corporate IT is to utilize open source to increase the rate of innovation in their organization. The increase in innovation stems from the ability of the IT organization to rapidly and broadly access technology which might not have been available prior to their adoption of open source components.

Due to the wide accessibility of open source components there are many contributors to these platforms. Anyone from individual developers, to students, software development teams to other large organizations can and do contribute to open source libraries. This broad-based development effort leads to a significant level of innovation in open source software platforms. Organizations that adopt these open source solutions, therefore benefit from all this available innovation.

In addition, organizations are able to explore new and alternative solutions beyond the capabilities of their own enterprise, further driving their internal innovation. Finally, businesses can increase their rate of innovation by adopting a wide base of open source software due to less cumbersome licensing constraints versus those of commercial software.

These three key factors enable astute corporate IT organizations to leverage the best practice of driving innovation in their enterprise. Which then enables their business to drive products more quickly to market.

Accelerate Go-To-Market

The second best practice is to use open source in enterprise IT to accelerate time to market for its customer-facing solutions and products. IT departments that use open source to help them quickly adapt to their stakeholder and market needs will likely be more successful in the long run, despite the change management a shift to open source might entail.

One way that an organization benefits from faster time to market with open source is the ability to modify source code directly, as the company or its solutions demand, which is typically not available with vendor-developed products. This means that corporate IT can adjust the code, on the fly as needed, instead of having to negotiate code changes with potentially multiple vendors and wait in a queue for their code changes to make it into a vendor’s release of production code — all of which can take a significant amount of time, costing the enterprise time, money and potentially customers.

Secondly, corporate IT benefits from time to market, due to code quality. Typically, due to the large number of contributors of code in open source, there is a relatively higher quality of code. Not only do contributors pride themselves on delivering high quality output — after all, it’s their reputation on the line — but the open source community has an inherent self-policing function, exhibited by developers using and reusing each other’s code, which means weak code gets weeded out by the community at large.

Finally, corporate IT is able to accelerate time to market through influence of roadmaps and functionality in open source code repositories. Because corporate clients are highly valued and sought after, those who participate in open source communities often get “most-favored-nation” status — whereby their requests for code enhancements and adjustments to roadmaps are often given first preference by developers. The best practice of leveraging open source to accelerate time to market is enabled through these key factors and lays the groundwork for creating more robust enterprise solutions.

Robustly Battle Test Solutions

The third best practice is to leverage open source to create robust and battle-tested corporate IT solutions. Among the many challenges of developing IT solutions in the enterprise is ensuring their software is well-tested and can withstand the rigors of deployment in the business. Thus, one of the key benefits of an open-source-based enterprise solution is the ability to test the software in environments outside a single organization or their IT department.

Having multiple companies, organizations, and even individuals outside your company testing the software inherently increases its robustness and quality. A corporate IT department that adopts open source solutions therefore benefits from all of this external testing. Furthermore, external testing typically includes security and vulnerability assessment and remediation, which means that externally validated open source solutions have a much higher level of security testing and validation than what one company can do by itself — and may even have higher levels of security than internally developed software.

All of this testing, whether functional, component or security means that the code is of higher quality and it may lead to lower levels of support costs. Therefore, the final attribute of this best practice is the potential of open source software to reduce support costs, not only because of higher quality code, but also because the corporate IT department can access the code and make changes themselves. Thereby reducing time, effort and energy required to support the software, versus having to consult with, rely upon and wait for a third-party software developer or vendor to make the necessary changes for corporate solutions.

These three characteristics of this best practice not only result in higher quality battle tested software, but also enable an organization to expand the broader ecosystem for its applications and platforms, making those even more robust and resilient.

Expand Technology Ecosystems

The fourth best practice with regard to open source for corporate IT is to utilize it to develop enhanced technology ecosystems. An organization is only able to allocate a limited budget for any particular initiative. It is the economic reality for every enterprise. What if other organizations also allocated a portion of their expense to develop components of a common platform? Then everyone would benefit and the more organizations that made this investment, the more everyone would benefit — it’s called the Metcalfe Law effect — which essentially states that the more nodes in a network the more value for every node in the network.

So, the first major value of this best practice is that by using open source corporate IT can utilize and leverage solutions which are built for environments outside their own organization. This means the solution will be more robust and capable due to these external developments.

In addition, this approach applies not only to environments, but also use cases and applications of the solution. Each business will tackle different challenges, priorities and capabilities — and as such it will expand the solution in a different way. This means your enterprise will benefit from the expansion of the solution ecosystem to cover a broader set of capabilities and functionality, beyond what your own organization could support, justify or develop.

One example of an organization that has successfully adopted the open source model to expand its technology ecosystem is Google’s Kubernetes technology platform. By making large portions of this available via open source licenses, Google rapidly expanded the market footprint for their product, increased its functionality and created parity with other providers and products.

The way Google continues to succeed with Kubernetes is to build differentiation on top of this platform to extend its capabilities in this space and maintain its own leadership position in the market. This best practice has many benefits for an organization to develop an enhanced ecosystem for their platform, but this is only possible through access to a pool of talented individuals.

Upskill and Attract Talent

The final best practice for corporate IT for open source is to leverage it to upskill and attract top technology talent. It is no secret that there is a war for talent in the technology sector. Regardless of geography, skillset or maturity of your organization — you are competing with many companies for the best talent to drive your organizational success.

One of the ways open source helps companies aside from the best practices listed above — is to enable access to engineering talent outside the enterprise. How so, you might ask? That pool of independent third-party and individual developers working in the open source community is the top tier talent your organization will get access to by adopting open source in the enterprise. Your company may not even have the ability, or the budget, to attract and retain this type of talent, and yet you will get access to them just the same through open source.

This will then enable your business to augment your engineering teams and development resources — beyond what your budget can afford. This ability to leverage and scale your access to talent is a critical value add a key best practice for corporate IT — which may at times struggle to attract the best talent — especially as compared to the “sizzle” of a “hot” internet startup.

Not only will open source adoption enable access to this talent, it might also attract those individuals to your organization. It’s a well-known fact how few startups succeed versus fail, and if your organization is a strong supporter of open source, don’t be surprised when you start attracting high-level talent who want to build a career and have discovered that a startup may not help them do that successfully.

Finally, do not overlook the fact that open source also enables your own corporate IT organization’s individuals to upskill and reskill themselves with the latest greatest technologies in the marketplace. Every developer wants to work on the coolest new tech, which not always be possible in a corporate setting where there are legacy solutions. Adopting open source platforms enables your top IT talent to “stretch their IT “wings” and discover new technologies, benefiting them and your organization.

Jitin (Jit) Agarwal is VP of Enterprise Products at EPAM Systems where he is focused on productizing and monetizing EPAM's intellectual property and core services. Jit has successfully led multiple startups to scale and launched numerous products in his career. He has expertise in all aspects of product and venture lifecycles, including ideation, funding, development, sales and marketing, and post-sales customer success. In addition to working with startups, Jit has worked at a number of leading technology firms, including Microsoft, Cognizant, and Gartner. Mr. Agarwal is an alumnus of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University.

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