Teemu Turunen, social responsibility lead at digital innovation consultancy Futurice, explores why open sourcing is a good business decision.
Proprietary software developers beware: open source has become mainstream with non-tech brands like Nike rushing to prove their open source credentials by publishing open source projects and sharing code on GitHub.
Meanwhile, Facebook has just open sourced the spec for Surround 360, its 3D-360 hardware and software video capture system. It is therefore a small surprise that the 2016 annual ‘Future of Open Source‘ survey revealed that 65% of respondents have increased their use of open source software compared with 60% in 2015.
Despite its high rate of adoption, doubts remain about the wisdom of sharing intellectual property via open source. Many businesses take comfort in having their own proprietary software because they feel they have something that others don’t, which gives them a long-term advantage. So it’s not surprising that the biggest concern about open source is the possibility that competitors could potentially copy work and gain undue benefit.
In my experience the value of a company’s customised software usually derives from a combination of its individual working processes and culture, the data it has collected, as well as software itself. If competitor B takes company A’s software without also having access to company A’s processes, culture, and data they will struggle to get much value from it.
Involvement in open source also delivers business benefits. From a business perspective I would say open source has delivered in three key areas:
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Testing new technologies
Involvement in open source is a great way of testing emerging technologies, such as Facebook’s React Native framework for building native apps, the application container engine Docker and functional programming language Clojure, to name a few.
As we pay staff to get involved in open source in their free time, as a business we benefit from their learning and insight without having to commit company time to it.
Enhanced employee engagement
Open source really helps improve employee engagement, especially when it comes to tech talent.
As our people proactively put emerging technologies to the test and share their findings with others, it develops their skills and competencies.
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It’s also an excellent global networking platform because project hosting services like GitHub allow participants to discuss problems, solutions and experiences with like-minded professionals across the world.
The UK recruitment market is very challenging with demand for the top talent outstripping supply.
Being actively involved with open source can be the difference between a gifted developer saying yes to working for you or choosing to go to your competitor.
However, the real benefit of adopting open source is around advancing technological progress.
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Open source gives developers the right to use the design, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes.
These rights are important for society because they promote sharing and collaboration in an increasingly digital world.
It’s no coincidence that the biggest advances in emerging software technology have come about as a result of open source, including operating systems such as Linux and Android, and databases such as PostgreSQL and Mongo DB.
Meanwhile nearly all programming languages are open source with Java and Swift being two good examples.
Open source is a significant enabler for new businesses, as companies can launch using tested and proven technology rather than having to reinvent the wheel.
As the UK tech sector faces a tougher economic climate post-Brexit, open source can offer a powerful kick-start to nascent companies, saving them time and money and freeing them to focus on those elements of their business that will truly differentiate them.