What’s an Open Source Program Office?

As companies increasingly adopt open source software, Open Source Program Offices (OSPOs) are becoming more common. In this FOSSlife resource article, we look at the role of Open Source Program Offices in guiding open source strategies and provide information to help you learn more.

What Does an Open Source Program Office Do?

Open Source Program Offices help companies create and manage an open source strategy in terms of the adoption, use, support, participation, and development of open source software. OSPOs help companies understand both the benefits and potential drawbacks of open source software and how to balance those considerations to meet the company’s unique business goals. 

As Brian Proffitt explains on the Red Hat blog, “it’s not about implementing open source for the sake of open source. It's also about aligning open source tools and techniques with the needs of the organization.”

The role of an OSPO is “to align the efforts of all relevant parts of an organization—engineering, sales, marketing, content creation—toward making open source methodologies and outputs successful,” Proffitt says.

“Engineering, business, and legal stakeholders each have their own goals and roles, oftentimes making trade-offs between speed, quality, and risk,” Remy DeCausemaker, head of open source at Spotify, explains in an article from The New Stack. “An OSPO works to balance and connect these individual goals into a holistic strategy that reduces friction.”

Another key role of OSPOs, according to Emily Omier, involves auditing licensing compliance to ensure that the company meets the various licensing requirements for open source software. This role “involves making decisions about how the organization should contribute to open source communities, what should or should not be released back into the community, and how open source can bring value to different parts of the business,” Omier says.

Open Source Program Office Benefits

According to a 2018 survey by The New Stack, the top three benefits of managing an open source program are: 

  1. Awareness of open source usage/dependencies.
  2. Increased developer agility/speed.
  3. Better license compliance.

However, OSPOs also play a role in fostering open source culture. According to the survey, “companies with open source programs see more benefits from open source code and community participation. It’s notable that 44 percent of companies with open source programs contribute code upstream, while the figure is about 6 percent for other companies.”

Establishing an Open Source Program Office

Large technology companies are leading the way in establishing open source programs to define and develop best practices around the use and adoption of open source software. In fact, “large companies are about twice as likely to run an open source program than smaller companies (63 percent vs. 37 percent),” according to that same survey. 

Having an OSPO in place helps organizations establish and successfully implement a clearly defined open source strategy, and the TODO Group offers several Open Source Guides with advice and best practices to help organizations succeed in this undertaking. 

How to Create on Open Source Program defines the various responsibilities of an OSPO, including:

  • Clearly communicating the open source strategy within and outside the company.
  • Owning and overseeing the execution of the strategy.
  • Facilitating the effective use of open source in commercial products and services.
  • Ensuring high-quality and frequent releases of code.
  • Engaging with developer communities and ensuring that the company effectively contributes back to projects.
  • Fostering an open source culture within an organization.
  • Managing open source license compliance.

The TODO Group’s Setting an Open Source Strategy guide outlines key steps of creating a strategy document that will serve as a shared taxonomy to shape these efforts. At minimum, such a document should:

  • Explain your company’s approach to open source and the purpose behind the document.
  • Specify how you want developers to consume open source code.
  • Specify how you want developers to contribute code to open source projects and identify projects that are critical to your business strategy.
  • Provide guidelines for making decisions.
  • Align your business objectives and management directives.
  • Lay out a usage policy and trademark that fits your code and concepts.
  • Answer questions as they evolve over time, in the form of a FAQ. 

Besides formulating and implementing an open source strategy, an OSPO is also responsible for monitoring and measuring success in terms of participation, compliance, and general project health. The TODO Group has a guide for that. They also explore various Tools for Managing Your Open Source Program and offer general best practices for Using Open Source Code and Participating in Open Source Communities

These resources as well as those listed below provide valuable insight and information to help make your organization’s open source journey a success.

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