Sharing is at the core of Open Source Strategies

In its 2014 annual survey on the Future of Open Source, Black Duck indicated that 56 percent of corporations expected to contribute to open source software solutions, more than ever before. Most of those companies were already using open source software internally, but wanted to go a step further and contribute back through comments, bug reports, or by subsidizing developer time.

However, open source software implementation strategy is very different from a proprietary solution development. Innovating in the open arena requires a mindset and a fundamental understanding of the rules of the game. New players can either join an existing community, thereby benefiting from the existing code and user base and build a business around it, or they can start a project and attract new contributors. In both cases, a successful open source initiative secures their market by becoming the standard for their industry by building partnerships and attaining a critical mass.

This article is the first of a series of three to explore what make an open source strategy successful. We will look how Hadoop, Docker, and OpenRefine grow their ecosystems and foster innovation, with a particular focus on the later. Initially designed as tool to work with linked data databases, over the past five years the project has attracted various communities including journalists, open data enthusiasts, and researcher. OpenRefine is now shaping up to be the standard for self service data normalization and preparation at large.

 

Open-source is gaining ground.

 

Companies are already using Open Source Software (OSS) for multiple reasons, including lower acquisition cost, stronger security, and better functionality. OSS is not limited to the operational level of companies any-more: it is quickly being incorporated into strategic plans. In the same Black Duck survey, 55 percent of respondents indicated they use OSS to create new products or services, with 45 percent using it to gain a competitive advantage. By subsidizing developer and manager time in an open source community, organizations gain influence on the project direction. In fact, for companies with over a thousand employees, this is one of their most significant reasons for engaging with OSS.

Successful open source ecosystems are comprised of individuals and organizations cooperatively maintaining the core components of an application in addition to working on their own supplementary features. They enable a wide range of organizations, not just community participants, to build and innovate on top of the source code. As users are not restricted by licenses, they can take the code to patch, mix, and tailor it to match unique requirements or to create brand new products. At critical mass, businesses spring up to offer consulting, training, and hosting services to support the growing user base.

As more organizations join an open ecosystem, the community gains traction and enters into a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle that improves the software outcome in terms of functionality, security, quality of code, and ease of deployment and usage.

 

Sharing components simplifies software development.

 

According to the Deutsche Bank Securities analysis:

 

“Enterprise software is no longer built from the ground up; it is borrowed and patched together using open-source components, that’s the new reality.”

 

Using code from other communities and revamping it to work within the scope of the project is the new way of developing solutions. This streamlines project development and reduces risk as you rely on proven pieces of technology.

For innovative projects, sharing the same core application has additional advantages. First, it helps to broaden the market and ease adoption. As more organizations implement the technology, it creates a larger market for the companies developing on the same platform — and more providers means a stronger and safer environment for new users.

Additionally, the potential for competition between different contributors (or with those with other solutions) fosters innovation within the community. Since the core elements are shared publicly and openly it raises the bar for members to come up with new features and processes to differentiate their offering. Open source offers a platform for participants to express their views, debate ideas and initiate actions. As Mark Hinkle, Senior Director of Open Source Solutions at Citrix, wrote:

 

“The beauty of open source is that it’s a huge ecosystem of innovators who are no longer competing for scarce resources but rather sharing knowledge with others to create new resources and opportunities for others to benefit from these resources.”

 

The Hadoop ecosystem is a great example. Hadoop is now a proven and robust technologies to store and process big data. Its market size is expected to reach USD 20.9 billion by 2018 and usage is growing among the government, banking and financial services, healthcare and life science, retail and telco sectors. The ecosystem is supported by numerous companies like Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR who provide managed and ready to deploy packages of Hadoop along with professional services. Start-ups keep coming up with new applications leveraging the Hadoop stack for data processing and analysis or for infrastructure monitoring and management. Each of the competitors bring innovation in terms of hardware, software, and consulting services, while still supporting the core component of the project together and growing the market size. On the other end, companies can safely invest into this technologies as they do not need to rely on a single provider and it has been already widely tested.

It’s a new world for software development and related business-building strategies, a world where even enterprise software projects leverage open source components for their foundation. In the next article we will see what you can do to build your community, attract and retain new developers. The freedom to extend or even fork the project to explore new options can lead to unexpected innovation and usage, when done right.

Continue reading – Part 2: Unexpected innovation thanks to open source