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3 Ways Every Company Can Get Started with an Open Source Software Strategy

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Technology drives human progress, and it is impossible to have major breakthroughs that are not supported by software.

Everything from the automotive industry to healthcare to climate technology relies on software as the invisible backbone that enables future innovation. Behind all these developments are the millions of individuals who make up the global open source community.

There is no future of software development without open source; however, in order to maintain today’s software and create tomorrow’s software, the largest organizations and beneficiaries of open source need to expand collaboration with the community and Help the community grow. According to a recent Tidelift study, only 15% of organizations are very confident in their open source management practices, but a recent RedHat survey revealed that 80% of organizations want to increase their use of enterprise open source software for emerging technologies.

To close this gap and maintain the number of developers, maintainers, and contributors, companies need to increase their involvement and participation in the open source community. Although this may seem like a daunting task, there are a number of ways companies can organize their open source programs. Here are three ways they can start:


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1. Learn about your organization’s involvement and processes with open source software.

Do you have a clear understanding of your organization’s current work with open source developers? Are there dedicated internal resources that can keep your team informed about the collaboration and process of working with open source projects?

The lack of a process for contributing to open source may hinder developers from making upstream contributions to open source projects. For example, according to the aforementioned Tidelift study, 61% of organizations have a formal approval process for introducing new open source components, but getting approval to use new open source components can become slow and tedious in large organizations, typically taking a week or longer.

Companies can make it easier for developers to release open source code by striving to open source everything possible and putting the code out there to invite developers to use their software. Companies will also benefit from establishing lightweight guidelines for creating open source projects. In effect, this will speed up the approval process and help determine what good maintenance and governance mean to them.

2. Manage your company’s participation in open source and provide structure through the Open Source Program Office.

If gaining an understanding of the current work and setup process is the first step, creating an Open Source Program Office (OSPO) can Help drive the growth of open source processes. Official OSPOs work cross-functionally within your company to reduce potential barriers with departments such as legal, HR, engineering, and security.

OSPO can also help increase organizational confidence in open source and reduce developer friction. Startups and large organizations in tech, financial services, and academia can create program offices to help manage open source at scale. This group is the front line of support for open source when developers have questions.

Various professionals create OSPO; developers, engineers, and project managers all take the lead on projects and initiate them. TODO Group is an example of a network that is a great public resource for getting started, as it provides case studies, guides, how-tos, and surveys to support organizations building OSPOs.

3. Support developers and open source communities through sponsorships and investments.

As the world becomes more and more reliant on open source, everyone has a responsibility to give back to the community. This support helps elevate all efforts of the wider community. For example, in recent software supply chain breaches, such as last year’s Log4j, many open source developers devoted their time and resources to addressing fixes for codebases many companies rely on. These developers deserve recognition and support for this work.

No first step is too small – sponsoring projects and developers that your company relies on is a great place to start, as it will open up a conversation with the community. With many options available, such as Outreachy, Open Collective, GitHub sponsors, and multiple foundations like The Linux Foundation, OpenJS, and more, supporting open source is easier than ever.

Open source projects power our major software systems and the global economy, but it’s a two-way street. Companies that rely on communities need to encourage and collaborate more with developers, maintainers, and contributors to co-create software that delivers innovation.

By implementing an open source strategy across their companies, organizations can accelerate the delivery of great experiences, engage with the developer community, support the projects that matter most to them, and for the future of software, come together .

Ashley Wolf is Director of Open Source Programs at GitHub .


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