Open Source Program Office’s (OSPO’s) are no longer a novelty for large tech companies. If your company uses open-source software, you should consider setting up an OSPO.
In this article, we’ve compiled answers from the former head of Verizon Media’s Open Source Program Office, Gil Yehuda, for the following questions:
- What is an Open Source Program Office?
- Should all companies have an OSPO?
- How do you measure the Return on Investment (ROI) of your OSPO?
- How do you convince your executive team that your company should start an OSPO?
NOTE: The following content was adapted from Episode 1 of the Open Source For Business Podcast with Gil Yehuda, the Sr. Director of Technology Products at Verizon Media.
What is an Open Source Program Office?
Gil Yehuda: There is open-source software which is the code. An OSPO is an organizational structure inside a company. Sometimes it’s just one person in a role and sometimes it’s a small team. It’s part of the company that is the center of competence, the center of gravity, or the go-to-place for open source-related issues the company has to deal with.
For companies that write software, it’s the person or group of people that help them understand; what are the license implications of the software they’re interacting with? For groups that distribute software, then the OSPO can handle compliance issues around the distribution of software with respect to the license.
In many cases, the OSPO can help:
- Get stuff onto GitHub
- Publish open source code
- Participate with foundations
- Work with other communities around growth
- Fixing code
- Launching new projects
OSPO’s can also help when strategically deciding between two open-source projects: which project should our company use and do we know enough about the dynamics of that community to help us decide how we want to strategically use one of two open-source options or open-source vs a commercial option?
These decisions are made by companies. The OSPO is the organizational structure that says ‘we can help you because we do this all day. We understand the company and the nature of open source to help make those decisions.’
Should all companies have an OSPO?
Gil Yehuda: More companies should have OSPO’s than do. It’s no longer this luxury good for the big tech companies. If you’re a company that deals with software, you’re most likely, in fact, you’re guaranteed to be dealing with open-source software. It’s simply impossible to deal with software today and not interact with open source.
Remember that somebody is making decisions about your open source strategy. Recognizing this, putting a bow on it, and saying ‘this is an OSPO’, seems like a great way to get accountability and consistency in those questions.
Even smaller companies that didn’t think they need an OSPO, they do need that role. Maybe it’s a part-time person. But they need someone who should understand the behaviors of open source and how it impacts the company’s goals.
How do you measure the Return on Investment (ROI) of your OSPO?
Gil Yehuda: Most of us think about ROI in a very transactional way: ‘if I build a product, it’ll cost me a certain amount of money. I will get a return for the product’. Open source and most platform investments are infrastructural investments. Infrastructural investments return ROI in a very different way because you don’t monetize infrastructure directly, you monetize it from spillover benefit.
Governments and institutions build roads, highways, and bridges and there is no ROI of the road. There is no ROI of a bridge. The bridge provides commerce which provides the ability for people to travel across the valley to the store which will improve tax revenue as a whole. The spillover benefit is the enablement of other things to happen.
The challenge that infrastructure people have all the time is that you can’t really calculate the ROI of the infrastructure directly, you calculate the ROI of the capabilities that are enabled by the infrastructure. Infrastructure needs to enable those possibilities. That means that attaching the ROI directly to the infrastructure reduces infrastructure to product and then it is no longer infrastructure and it can’t be useful.
I challenge the question: what’s the ROI of an OSPO? Instead, look for what the spillover benefits are. The primary spillover benefit for an organization to have an OSPO is to have the capability to do all the things that OSPO’s do. As a company, you want to:
- Be able to bring in open source properly and know what you’re bringing in, in a secure and supported manner.
- Contribute to open-source projects in a smart way.
- To acquire companies that use open source and to incorporate that as part of the integration.
- To participate and change the economics of open source in those communities that are important to it.
- Reduce tech debt and improve the option to sell products through open source.
You can directly reduce risk, increase opportunity, and bring financial benefits. But in order to this, the company has to be able to! It has to know what these licenses mean. It has to know what an open-source foundation is. It has to know what it can and can’t do on a GitHub repo. The OSPO gives them the infrastructure to participate in these money-making or money-saving activities.
How do you convince your executive team that your company should start an OSPO?
Gil Yehuda: I would ask the executives to look at their reality. The reality is that decisions are made on a daily basis that either incur additional risk, cost, or give us an advantage. These are decisions being made because of open source considerations. These are happening today. As an executive at a company, you need to recognize what they are – you need some sort of accountability. You also need to manage or course correct if they’re the wrong decisions. An OSPO is a management structure that allows you to do that. Without an office, those decisions are being made anyway, you just don’t know by whom.
Those companies that tell me ‘we don’t contribute to any open source projects’ are usually wrong. They actually do, they just don’t know that their engineers are doing it on the side. They ignoring that fact and you don’t know where they’re contributing or why. The people that say ‘we don’t use any open source’ usually do. They just don’t know it.
Pitch to your executive team that your company has to be responsible for your technology portfolio. An OSPO gives you the ability to have that kind of management control and responsibility for those decisions. Figure out what they are, measure whether they’re good or not, course correct, and then communicate that so that as an organization you make those decisions strategically and wisely.
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