Open source has become a key enabler of business and technology transformation in almost all organizations. From cloud deployment to application modernization and security operation, open source plays a critical role. It is used in almost all organizations, delivers business growth, facilitates innovation, and allows organizations to respond to their technical, organizational, business and industry challenges in order to scale into new markets, products, and services. Yet, many organizations do not have open source representation in their C-Suite. Organizations may assign the responsibility for open source management to the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Head of IT, who may have purely technical and engineering backgrounds and mindsets, and cannot fully and appropriately represent the value of engaging in open source activities. This lack of dedicated executive representation results in open source not being understood and prioritized correctly at the C-level. The need to manage and leverage open source effectively has given rise over the past decade to the new role of Chief Open Source Officer. In this article, we argue for the need to appoint such a role to steer effective open source governance that is aligned with corporate governance, its mission and vision. The position requires a strong presence within the top executive team that can set the right level of engagement for an open source strategy.
By Gilles Gravier, Director & Reza Alavi, Managing Consulting, Both of Open Source Consulting Practice, Wipro Limited
Lack of C-Suite representation prevents organizations from realizing the full benefits of their open source activities, such as effective innovation of services and products, thought leadership, talent acquisition and retention...
Organizations are wrestling with many challenges, but we believe that developments in new technologies present particularly unique and daunting difficulties. Addressing such challenges effectively and efficiently enables organizations to achieve long-term sustainability and should be a key element of the corporate agenda.
Formulating an adequate open source strategy is one of the most accelerating and influential pieces of the digital transformation journey in organizations. It is the path to generating the above benefits.
The Chief Open Source Officer should also have the following skills and experience:
- Leadership abilities and strategic vision
- Ideally, at least a good understanding of how open source developers and teams operate (even better if some hands-on technology and OSS development background)
- Experience in leading large change programs such as digital transformation projects
- Management experience in non-technology functions
- Experience in managing successful IT and technology infrastructure
- Innovative thinking
- Understanding of the impacts of projects on enterprise financials
While open source offers incredible opportunities for organizations to flourish and retain a competitive edge over their competitors, lack of strategic perspective or resources, can prevent turning these opportunities into real achievements. The realization is growing that inadequate management of open source could derail growth, profitability, agility, and responsiveness to digital transformation efforts. In addition, organizations could see the cost of remediation rise substantially while loss of customer confidence would harm their brand image. These factors make a case for an organization to shift towards adequate open source representation in C-Suite and make open source one of the key technology and business priorities. By demonstrating the ability to reduce the related open source risks by establishing an open source program office lead by the Chief Open Source Officer, open source can gain the support of senior management across the organization’s ecosystem. The appointment of an executive-level open source leader with enterprise-wide responsibility should be the number one open source strategic priority. Such a position should work alongside other teams including, programme management, legal, dev and other relevant teams.
Because open source permeates all areas of the enterprise, from risk management, to procurement, as well as HR, innovation, business strategy, IT development... it becomes critical to establish a single “face” of open source for the organization. The need for a coordinated approach, strategically aligned with the corporate strategy, and communicated to all teams, has led most organizations with strategic open source involvement to create an internal structure that crystalizes all open source activities. This can be called an Open Source Program Office (OSPO), or a Chief Open Source Office, or something similar. But the aim remains the same: anybody who has a question about open source in the organization can address it there. There is only one reference for open source information, strategy, policies, procedures, processes, and it's there. And not only does this communication go downwards, but it is also turned upwards towards the executive team.
The need for strategic alignment with business strategy and the fact that open source brings a whole palette of tools to support various aspects of corporate strategy requires clear communication paths to the C-level representatives. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) will need to understand the overall impact of open source activities. The Chief HR Officer will bring talent acquisition and retention objectives down to open source contribution policies and social media communication. The Head of Innovation will leverage open source to drive primary innovation (creating new products) as well a secondary innovation (benefiting from the huge amount of existing innovation) by leveraging the diversity and energy from the open source communities that the organization engages with. If the organization is a software development company, open source will be key to driving adoption and market penetration. If the organization is a consumer of open source, the head of procurement will need to understand the new models of procurement for open source software. The role of the Chief Open Source Officer is not only to advocate, but also to deliver a clear, strategic message of open source benefits and business added value to the rest of the organization.
A clear, comprehensive, communication to the C-suite is a key element of leveraging all the benefits of open source, beyond just the cost savings that most organizations expect as their first driver for using open source.
That said, any organization needs to measure their cost-effectiveness to justify their budget utilization and provide next budget justification. Without having the right representations at C-level, business units are not able to respond to the challenges they are faced with and obtain the right resources and budget to address these. This is no different for open source. Funding an open source program office with a Chief Open Source Officer who can engage at the level where budget allocations are discussed, ensures the right investment for open source team activities. From the economy of scale point of view, the open source function must be transformed from a cost centre to a business benefit enabler, hence the Chief Open Source Officer also becomes more involved in brand and reputation protection.
We therefore make some recommendations for your organization:
- Appoint a Chief Open Source Officer whose position and role are custom defined based on your business model and organizational charts and framework. Successful open source management adoption can only be achieved through constant change and continuous improvement, discarding old ideas that have outlived their usefulness. The Chief Open Source Officer must communicate and present the open source strategy, governance, policies, procedures, activities, and benefits to all stakeholders and be able to understand everything as a process, as well as demonstrate keen business acumen. The success of the open source program is heavily related to legal, regulatory, and business objectives. These objectives help the senior executive team make the right decisions about corresponding resource allocations. The Chief Open Source Officer should also build a solid foundation of an internal open source community which eventually ties to the global open source community. Facilitating, creating, and fostering an open source culture within the organization is a major task for the Chief Open Source Officer, and should be a priority.
- Ensure the Chief Open Source Officer works closely with other senior stakeholders to form an entity for shaping and running an effective open source strategy and governance model. Some organizations call it the “Open Source Program Office” but you can name it based on your organizational structure and culture. Such an entity in your organization creates a single point of contact, a focal point, for open source operations and structure, assisting to bring all the verticals and business units together to ensure the definition, and success of the open source management objectives. It is often the structural home of the Chief Open Source Officer.
In conclusion, for your next steps, imagine the role of your Chief Open Source Officer, for example, who will be a part of their team, where they will be hosted within the organization. Make sure your Chief Open Source Office has the proper support from the C-suite as well as from the underlying teams. The stronger the engagement, the more efficient your Chief Open Source Officer will be, and the more benefits your organization will derive from its open source activities.
About the AuthorS
Director, Open Source Consulting Practice, Wipro Limited
Gilles, based in Switzerland, provides open source and blockchain strategy consulting and advisory services to Wipro's key customers worldwide. Throughout his career, Gilles has been involved in both security and open source.
Managing Consulting, Open Source Consulting Practice, Wipro Limited
Reza, with over 15 years of experience in leading technology risk and security executive projects, works with Wipro’s clients to analyze, develop and deliver solutions for complex risk and security challenges in open source and digital transformation projects.
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