Why Open-Source Software Is Vital For Digital Transformation


It’s no secret that Tesla cars are powered not only by batteries but by open-source software. In 2018, Tesla released some of its Linux source code for the Model S and X cars. 

Long considered a technology company that happens to sell cars, Elon Musk’s decision to open-source the company’s patent portfolio, when he issued a statement titled “All Our Patent Are Belong To You,” in 2014 was called unprecedented. 

Musk stated that “in the spirit of the open-source movement”, Tesla would not “initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology”. 

It’s another story though, that you can’t build your own Tesla binaries for your car yet. The Tesla Linux code is still missing source code files and has incomplete build instructions.

Nevertheless, as technological change accelerates, more and more innovations happen in “open source”. The Android operating system that powers most of the world’s smartphones is open-source. Android is based on the widely used open-source operating system: Linux.

Reputable firms such as RedHat have built profitable, enduring business models around open-source software (OSS).

Interestingly, in a recent Red Hat survey, almost 70 per cent of IT leaders said that enterprise OSS was either “very important” or “extremely important” to their organisation’s overall enterprise software strategy. OSS is a compelling proposition that promises a practical solution to the problems of digital transformation, so we see a growing number of IT leaders adding OSS to their transformation toolkits.

For digital transformation to be effective, OSS is going to play a bigger role as organisations need to be more agile, accountable, engaged, and better prepared to respond to crises, and to evolve.

While vendor solutions remain an indispensable resource for digital transformation, OSS, as emerging technology domains, includes work contributed by large communities of developers who are creating, refining and improving code to create robust platforms that can be downloaded and used, free from commercial licence costs. It is an ever-expanding resource — open-source projects have seen more than 1.1 billion contributions. 

The biggest advantage of OSS, besides being free software, is that developers and others in the community can review the source code to ensure each tool is legitimate and is only doing what it’s supposed to be. The more people have access to the source code, the easier it is to find and fix mistakes and add improvements. 

Also Read: Race For Case

By exploring OSS projects for artificial intelligence (AI) or other technologies, organisations that lack in-house experts can better understand what the future holds for these disruptive tools.

Increasingly, organisations are realising that when coders engage with domain experts and contribute their own work to an OSS ecosystem, job satisfaction and creativity often grow, along with engineering discipline, product quality, and efficiency. 

OSS is indeed fueling new ideas. According to Deloitte, OSS can help organisations accelerate development, form their digital strategy, scout talent and mitigate risk.

A  joint research effort from Deloitte and Datawheel shows that the number of open-source projects grew at a staggering average compound rate of 79 per cent between 2008 and 2018, revealing that open-source languages, tools, and platforms can be powerful accelerants. 

Consider TensorFlow, a machine learning platform originally developed in 2011 by a handful of internal researchers at Google. Released four years later under the Apache 2.0 open-source license, TensorFlow has since exploded in popularity.  By 2018, more than 3,500 individual developers around the globe had made roughly 43,000 contributions to the project.

Airbnb is using TensorFlow’s ML capabilities to classify property listing images and detect household objects at scale, helping to improve the guest experience. PayPal is using its deep learning libraries to recognise, and get ahead of, complex fraud patterns. And beyond tech companies, established global enterprises such as Coca-Cola, Airbus, and GE Healthcare are leveraging TensorFlow to jump-start the delivery of their next-generation business capabilities.

Thomson Reuters, which delivers business intelligence and technology solutions, meets its evolving customer demand by building enterprise-scale software solutions in-house — solutions that in many cases leverage open-source software. While OSS has become a valuable component in Thomson Reuters’ digital strategy, perhaps its greatest impact thus far has come from an internal OSS community that the company now operates.
Consuming OSS — and, when possible, sharing IP in return — has afforded Thomson Reuters the opportunity to leverage and contribute to offerings that have seen widespread adoption.

There are also scores of commercial and open-source security tools such as Kali Linux and Wireshark available that are essential for finding vulnerabilities, including software supply chain, with more released every day.

Recently, application security testing company Checkmarx acquired Dustico, a platform for detecting backdoors and other malicious activity in the open-source software supply chain. Combined with Checkmarx’s open-source software composition analysis tool CxSCA, enterprises can have a unified view into the risk, reputation, and behaviour of open source packages to help prevent supply chain attacks.

Also Read: What’s Driving The Automotive Industry?

Cyberattacks such as the SolarWinds breach impacting companies and government agencies around the globe can also be attributed somewhat to the growing use of open-source components in software development. 

According to Deloitte, participating in an open-source community can provide junior developers an opportunity to read code written by more experienced colleagues in their field. This kind of access can serve as a master class in complex systems and the engineering techniques used to build them. By engaging with their peers in an OSS community, experienced developers can continuously freshen their skills, while keeping their finger on the pulse of the latest technologies, programming languages, and tools. 

Also, for organisations, instead of inventing standards and frameworks, OSS can provide a foundation — embodying best practices and accelerating efforts to stand up modern development capabilities.

It’s imperative that IT leaders think of OSS as a potentially valuable complement to their broader ecosystem, vendor, or partner strategy. They should also determine when its use is business-case-justified. Overall, a judicious embrace of OSS can bring compelling benefits to a firm’s strategy, processes, and people.