How to Develop an Open Source Strategy

A comprehensive open source strategy is crucial for maximizing the benefits of open source software (OSS), says a recent Forrester study

Those benefits, the study says, include:

  • Accelerating application development and deployment 
  • Empowering innovation 
  • Increasing flexibility
  • Lowering operational costs

However, only 37 percent of survey respondents have a company-wide policy in place to prioritize open source. And, 38 percent reported that open source adoption within their organization is determined by individual teams, “which can lead to fragmentation and problems with interoperability, security, and scale.” 

In this article, we’ll share tips for developing an open source strategy to help your organization realize the full benefits of open source.

A Step-by-Step Approach

A recent guide written by Ibrahim Haddad, Executive Director of the LF AI & Data Foundation, outlines specific steps to help organizations plan and achieve their open source software goals. It offers a detailed approach for evaluating, building, and executing a strong open source strategy, with practical advice for newcomers as well as established leaders in the open source community. 

“All successful OSS implementations have two elements in common,” Haddad says: 

  • A strong OSS strategy
  • A clear plan of execution

Generally speaking, he says, an open source strategy is defined as “a concise, high-level document that maps the organization’s business objectives to open source software use and management directives. It is the reference document for establishing an agreement on future open source policies and processes.”

Start Where You Are

Think of your open source strategy as a roadmap. You need to know where you are and where you want to go. The first step is to identify exactly where your organization is on its open source journey.

Organizations typically move through the following four main stages of open source strategy, says Haddad: 

  • Consumption
  • Participation 
  • Contribution 
  • Leadership 

“As a technology-driven organization, your enterprise is already evaluating, using, and deploying OSS,” says Haddad. “You are likely participating and maybe contributing to projects. Ideally, your open source team guides these efforts, decreases risks, and leverages your participation to benefit your strategy.” 

This means your organization needs to develop a strategy that not only works at the current stage but also helps you move to the next one. For example, you need to understand how your organization procures, implements, tests, deploys, and maintains software, Haddad says. And, you should also consider how you would like to “benefit from an open source engineering effort, involvement in OS projects, and collaboration with industry players, universities, and OS foundations.”

Four Pillars

There are also four main pillars or “poles” around which to build a strong open source strategy, according to Haddad. These are:    

  • Projects
  • Community
  • Governance
  • Culture

Thus, organizations should think about: 

  • The open source projects in which they want to participate
  • The related open source project communities that they want to engage
  • The effectiveness of their open source governance 
  • The openness of their enterprise culture and whether it will welcome or reject open source efforts 

When formulating an open source strategy in terms of projects, for example, you may want to evaluate and articulate your organization’s upstream contribution policies and objectives. To help clarify your organization’s project goals, E.G. Nadhan, chief architect and strategist at Red Hat, suggests answering the following questions: 

  • What are the open source projects the enterprise is engaged with today?
  • What are the projects you should be engaged with next year?
  • Where do you want those relevant projects to be in one year? In two years?
  • What can you do to get there?

You’ll need to determine similar goals for each open source pillar and design your strategy accordingly.

Set Up Your Team for Success

When setting goals and shaping your plan, you also need to set up your organization for success.

For example, says the TODO Group, “once your strategy document includes specific goals, you must also ensure that it also sets out specific actions to achieve your open source business objectives and assign roles and responsibilities for tracking progress.” 

You might also want to create an Open Source Program Office to help oversee implementation, manage compliance issues, and generally keep the process headed in the right direction. 

We’ve provided a few tips to help you envision the scope and direction of your organization’s open source strategy, but there are many other aspects to consider. Developing an open source strategy is not a quick or simple process, and we’ll look at more key considerations in upcoming articles.

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