A painful but unavoidable transformation was required.
1.- Open Source consumer
Every software organization has gone through their unique journey, but the final sentence of the story has been the same for all of them: they became Open Source consumers.
2.- Open Source producer
It became an Open Source producer.
You can recognise such organizations because they frequently create a specific group, usually linked to R&D, in change of bringing all the innovation that is happening “in the Open Source community” into the organization.
Little by little this organisation realised that giving fast and satisfactory answers to their customer demands became more and more expensive. They got stuck in what rapidly became an old kernel or tool chain version…. Bringing innovation from “the community” required back-porting, solving complex integration issues, incompatibilities with what your provider brings, what your customer wants.
So they have to upgrade.
This organization will be able now to take advantage of all the common features and compatibility that the new kernel, the new tool chain… brings. But, guess what, forward porting all the differentiation features this organization has developed, all the bug fixes, is so much work and so complicated that the challenge put the organization at risk.
3.- Open Source contributors
But, after struggling for some time, this organization survived, which means that it has learnt some lessons:
- Upstream those features that are not differentiation factors any more.
- Increase the investment in that reduced groups of rock-stars that are up to date of what’s going on “in the different communities”.
- Invest in those Open Source projects that develop the key software you consume.
- Even better, start your own Open Source project to promote your technologies and be perceived as a leader…
- Reduce the upgrade cycle, so the “upgrade pain” is lower. As a side effect, the organization has the opportunity to increase the cash flow when doing two smaller upgrades instead of a big one. At the very end, the real profit comes with the first update, not with the new version, right?
You can recognise that this organization has gone through the described process when attending to conferences given by any of its executives. They cannot stop talking about how much they contribute to this and that community, about how awesome the community is, how important it is to be open and share…. they are referring all the time to communities/upstream as “us” and “them”. They think they got it, they really do.
Most of them believe they are in the crest of the wave after going through this third transformation process. They are innovative, they has been able to reduce their time to market, they are gaining reputation within a variety of communities… They are not just Open Source consumers and producers any more. They are also contributors. Some of them even heavy and “successful” contributors.
This organization face friction because of this reality. It still cannot move fast enough. Upgrading is still too expensive since now they have to do it more often than years ago, upstreaming goes so slow, when it happens. They cannot control the communities they are investing on…
4.- Upstream first or becoming a good Open Source citizen
But open source (no capital letters any more) is not about being open, but about being transparent, which means that is not just about seeing what is behind the glass, but also understand it.
5.- Becoming upstream or being an open source organization
The smart thing to do is to surf the wave, not fight against it, generating friction. Any manager knows that friction is expensive, reduces focus and drives away talent. It is bad for the business.
The required culture change to succeed in this fifth transformation involves thinking less about us (company and customers) and them (community), and more about us (ecosystem). It can’t be any more about upstream and downstream but about technology and service. It has to be less about upgrading and more about updating, less about “manage” and more about “lead” at every level of the organization, not just referred to execs and managers.
It is a transformation in which engineers are empowered, where management is more focused on collecting information for execs instead of producing it, and after decisions are taken, their key focus is alignment. A transformation in which execs get closer to where the real value is, to people, because they are the “masters”. A transformation in which engineers not just follow, they get exposed, they take responsibility and assume the consequences… getting paid for it.
In summary, a transformation that leads to a stage in which the organization steers its ecosystem instead of driving it. So it leads it in a sustainable way.
- No more than it would have sounded 15 years ago any of the stories that so many CEOs or Open Source Program managers from leading corporations are telling nowadays in popular FOSS events about “their transformation”.
- I do not think the debate is if this fifth transformation will be needed, but about when and how to go through it.
- My +10 years of experience in Open Source and +17 as manager tells me that, waiting to face any of the first four transformation processes until you have no choice is an unnecessary risk. I suspect the same will apply to the fifth one.
- Consume, produce and contribute to open source being a good citizen.
- Embrace Open Source culture… better sooner than later.