All Companies Are Tech Companies: How Open Source and Inner Source are changing the IT Landscape

Jim Jagielski, Co-founder and Director, the Apache Software Foundation and Sr. Director, Capital One Tech Fellows Program
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Jim Jagielski, Co-founder and Director, the Apache Software Foundation and Sr. Director, Capital One Tech Fellows Program

We are in the midst of yet another major change in business technology. In fact, it is a realization that to be a business, one has to leverage and embrace technology. More so than at any other time, technology is no longer a separate task or duty; no longer a “support arm” of the company. IT is not an aspect of how business is done; it is how business is done. It is, in many ways, the business.

It was just 5 short years ago when Marc Andreessen famously quipped that “software is eating the world.” At the time, I had noted that although that was true, Open Source was the utensil being used. It was due to the prevalence of Open Source, as well as the significant and core migration of business to leveraging and embracing Open Source, that software became the Cookie Monster of IT. Open Source proved itself, time and again, to be able to create vital, healthy new technologies, innovative collaborative projects, and robust, reliable and secure solutions. Rather than being a “novelty” in software development methodologies, Open Source was becoming the de-facto standard. Even companies which one derided Open Source as a “cancer” have embraced it to such levels that there are now among the leader contributors to major Open Source projects.

Open Source itself is everywhere. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find a single technical device that does not include at least some Open Source code. In the days when your refrigerator and toaster have operating systems, Open Source is more than prevalent; it is ubiquitous.

  ‚ÄčOpen Source proved itself, time and again, to be able to create vital, healthy new technologies, innovative collaborative projects, and robust, reliable and secure solutions   

As with most successful revolutions, of course, they are hard to contain. Although consumption of Open Source projects made obvious sense for software companies, other entities not known for being “IT shops” had the foresight to see that by unbounded usage of Open Source technology in-house, they could reap significant benefits in resource allocation, and focus more of their energies and talents on the aspects of their business that differentiated themselves from their competitors. In other words, Open Source became a strategic advantage. The results were that we saw large segments of the industry direct efforts towards enhancing and growing their IT prowess in order to achieve the benefits that such capability would provide. With software being such a valuable asset, being such a crucial way to implement and drive innovation, companies basically realized that they were, at the end of the day, really technology companies which happen to specialize in a different type of business than software. This includes the more obvious players, such as Facebook, Netflix and Amazon, all of which provide different services (social media, digital content and cloud computing, respectively), but are technology companies at their core. But this extends to non-obvious companies as well. Capital One, for example, considers itself to be a technology company that “just happens to be a bank.” And their growth in building their internal expertise in technology, Big Data and Open Source is evidence to that position.

Lately, another aspect of Open Source is making dramatic changes to business, and this is the concept of InnerSource. It was recognized early on that one of the major successes of Open Source was due to the collaborative, community-based, consensus-driven, transparent development model used, the best example being that in place in the Apache Software Foundation. This model, called The Apache Way, serves as the basis for this new movement called InnerSource. InnerSource brings the “lessons learned” from building and growing successful Open Source projects, and the methods and processes derived from them, into the Enterprise development realm. In essence, it is idea of developing internal projects is if they were external Open Source projects. InnerSource serves to break down developmental silos, drive innovation, truly engage developers and enable strategic sharing of talent, code and resources.

The InnerSource movement itself is generating significant traction, since the basic concepts of InnerSource transcend software itself. At its core is the cultural change of shared ownership in a project, and the realization that such concepts as transparency and open communication, enable and perpetuates that sense of ownership. As proven in Open Source, these principles have significant, positive impact on project reliability and robustness. Increased security and lower risk is more easily achieved and more easily measured and tracked. Open Source and InnerSource also have significant impacts on the hiring and, even more importantly, the retention of top IT talent, requiring comprehensive Open Source consumption and contribution processes to be in place to woo the innovative talent base desired.

Open Source, along with the Free Software movement, started decades ago as somewhat formalized process to enable the sharing of software source code, but also as a way to allow development of that code in a geographically diverse and asynchronous community. What started off as a way for developers to share their code, and their talents, with others, and to create software that “scratched their own itch” has grown to be the preeminent driver in IT today. Companies have realized that in order to truly succeed, in order to thrive, that the game has changed. Technology is no longer a subsidy player; it is part of a company’s DNA. For the company to evolve, to exist in this new landscape, it has to be.

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