In a software-centric world, software strategy is business strategy, and vice versa. A well-defined software strategy, in terms of technologies, processes, applications and methodologies, aligns with business strategy to create a flexible, scalable and agile operating model that drives efficiency, innovation and transformation. A software-driven enterprise is designed to adapt quickly to change and to re-position itself for new revenue streams, business opportunities and operating models. The emphasis on the power of software has already created disruptive enterprise models across multiple industries. And open source software (OSS) has a significant role to play in the software-defined enterprise.

It has been a long trek for OSS into the mainstream enterprise, where at best it was often ignored as being inferior to proprietary software or otherwise even vilified. As a result, it was largely relegated to the league of small businesses and startups, attracted to the concept by the low costs and the possibility of building and scaling applications to their unique needs.

But that trend is definitely turning. Nearly 80 percent of C-level executives and IT directors responding to a 2015 study indicated that all or part of their operations was run on open source software. There are a number of reasons for this transformation. The tech giants have definitely played their part in evangelizing the potential of open source. Today companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix and IBM are recognized as the biggest contributors to open source projects. Even Microsoft, which in the past has been a vocal detractor of OSS, is now modifying its position on OSS.

Enterprise technology trends like digital transformation, Big Data, IoT and AI have also influenced the use of OSS in the industry. In Big Data, for instance, many of the popular systems and tools are open source. The huge issue of interoperability in IoT could be solved as companies opt into an open source for development. In AI, some of the biggest names in tech, including Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, are open sourcing their deep learning technologies and systems.

It is therefore no longer surprising to learn that open source is today’s preeminent architecture, the foundation for nearly all applications, operating systems, cloud computing, databases, and big data.  Today, open source has become a strategic component of enterprise technology for improving efficiency, innovation and interoperability.

As OSS becomes a strategic priority in the enterprise, cost is no longer the key driver for adoption. In fact, the most compelling reasons for using OSS, as cited by respondents to a study, are quality of solutions, competitive features & technical capabilities, and ability to customize and fix.

Agility is a key lever of competitive advantage in these competitive times. And the OSS model, by design, enables business to accelerate the development process. It is possible to immediately and inexpensively experiment with community versions to understand business impact and then progress to prototyping and building applications. Companies have the flexibility to tinker with the source code to find ways to add the unique functionalities and capabilities that their business needs. Since there are no lock-in clauses, companies can even shift to new platforms that they deem to be a more appropriate fit for their requirements. And once they have been able to demonstrate the business value of the solutions, they are free to scale it to across the enterprise.  All this translates into the agility to quickly get solutions off the ground, build in features and customizations that serve their customers the best, and get the solution to market without being bogged down by licenses, use cases and scalability.

But one of the most compelling qualities of the OSS model is the power of community. Open source solutions filter through collective and collaborative development communities united around the singular objective of creating the best possible solution. The concentration of different skills, capabilities and perspectives on to each solution ensure a robust development process. For starters, the source code tends to be more reliable as it is supported by a multifaceted and versatile global community of experts rather than a comparatively homogeneous in-house development team. The output, similarly, tends to be more tinkered and tested than is possible within any one company. This collaboration generates more powerful ideas, drives the development of exceptional use cases and capabilities, and enables a pace of ideation, iteration and innovation that cannot be matched by any proprietary development model.

But even as OSS emerges as a key driver of mainstream enterprise technology strategy, there are also several challenges that have to be addressed. First, there is the fact that open source security and management practices have not kept pace with rapid adoption. And second, companies need to have a structured and well-defined strategy in place to harness and manage the power of open source. Companies need to evaluate the core competencies and capabilities of their internal team and understand the additional resources that need to be committed to get the best out of the OSS model. Once these resources have been identified, businesses then have to make the long-term commitments and investments required to make the program work. Most importantly, companies need to focus on creating an enterprise culture that emphasizes some key features of the open source model like accountability, transparency and shared responsibility.

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