In recent years, it seems as if open source has taken the software world by storm. Nonetheless, many enterprise organizations remain hesitant to adopt open-source technologies, whether due to vendor lock-in or a preference for proprietary solutions. But open source can in fact yield substantial fruit when it comes to advancing your business in today’s highly competitive landscape. By leveraging and contributing back to open source, you can distinguish your business with open source as a competitive advantage.
A few years back, Michael Meyers (Managing Director at Tag1 Consulting) presented a keynote at Texas Camp 2016 about the individual and business benefits of open source. As part of that talk, he highlighted some of the best motivations for open-source adoption and the outsized benefits that open source delivers to not only individual developers but also businesses that are seeking to get ahead in recruiting, sales, and other areas. In this two-part blog series (read the first part), we analyze the positive effects of open source on everyone from individual developers to the biggest enterprises in the world, all of whom are benefitting from their adoption of open-source software.
In this second installment, we dive into some of the ways in which open-source technologies like Drupal can improve your bottom line, with the help of a hypothetical tale of two companies and real-world case studies that demonstrate that open source presents much more rewards than risks in the context of enterprise.
A tale of two enterprises
As I wrote in the previous installment in this two-part series, individuals who participate in and contribute to Drupal garner immense benefits from open-source communities. And organizations can leverage these benefits as well for themselves by encouraging their employees to attend open-source conferences and grow their expertise and knowledge.
Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario in which two enterprise organizations are attempting to outcompete others in their space. The two protagonists of our vignette are DIY Corporation (whose slogan is “reinventing the wheel since forever”), and their corporate headquarters is located in the silos next to a nearby waterfall. Collab Incorporated is the other main character in this story, and they focus on working with others.
Writing custom code vs. leveraging open source
In this hypothetical scenario, DIY Corporation downloads Drupal, one of the most commonly used open-source content management systems (CMS) in the world. However, it soon discovers that it needs to extend existing functionality to solve problems unique to its business requirements. DIY Corporation chooses to write code to solve the problem rather than leveraging others’ code, something that is a common event among organizations that are unaccustomed to open-source software. Writing code makes perfect sense, as the business needs are resolved, but the challenge is when developers leave and additional support is required. When DIY Corporation gets stuck, they have no one to turn to, because their code is located in a private repository.
Meanwhile, Collab Inc. first checks to see if there is a solution available that has already been committed to the open-source ecosystem in the form of a Drupal module or experimental sandbox project. The key distinction here is that if there is no solution already available, Collab Inc. can decide only then to write a solution—and they choose to do so in public rather than in a silo. Too often, Drupal companies download software and write code in isolation rather than contributing that code back. If every organization opts to do this, then we negate the value of the open-source community in the first place.
A real-world example: Fivestar module
The key lesson from this hypothetical scenario is that sharing code from the beginning translates into better results for everyone across the board. By being open to contributions and ideas from others, we can resolve shared problems when we hit a wall. After all, other organizations will have a vested interest in your contributed code, because they are dependent on it and appreciative of the outcomes they have been able to achieve as a result.
A real-world example of this situation is Drupal’s Fivestar module, which ironically does exactly what it says it does. Originally developed by Lullabot for Sony BMG, which needed to provide ratings on pages associated with the label’s musicians, it has quickly found ubiquity across a variety of businesses leveraging Drupal. After the Fivestar module was released, Warner Music Group also contributed to the module’s codebase by upgrading it to Drupal 6 from Drupal 5. This illustrates an increasingly rare scenario in the hyper-competitive music landscape: two competitors helping each other for better results all around.
Thanks to Warner Music Group’s contributions, when Sony BMG finally needed to update all of their artist websites to Drupal 6, they simply employed the existing Drupal 6 module. Because of this strategic alliance, even as direct competitors, Sony BMG and Warner Music Group recognized that they were not competitors in the technology space—only in the music space—and worked together to realize mutual benefits. In the end, technology is a commodity, and every dime spent on additional code is not in each organization’s best interest. Their five-star rating systems are not a differentiator; instead of building separate code in that arena, they can focus on creating good music.
Recruiting talent in open source
Consider another scenario. Organizations are always looking to recruit the best talent, particularly in the Drupal ecosystem. Our hypothetical DIY Corporation posts to a job board; they release information about their opening and wonder why their recruiting pipeline is running dry, especially if they are not a well-known household name. However, because DIY Corporation has not focused on recruiting open-source developers in an open-source community, they have not attracted the interest they desire.
This brings us to a crucial point: Locking up your code guarantees a disincentive for people to work with you as an employee. Developers who wish to grow their careers are willing to work with employers who have a vested interest in their growth as well. If an employer does not grant the necessary opportunities to engage with open-source communities, this results in a lack of opportunities. Thanks to open source, organizations can develop a bench of people who may be interested in the future, thus expanding their recruiting pipelines.
The competitive advantage of open source
The benefits and advantages conferred by Drupal cannot be overstated. While the most overt benefit is Drupal’s cost-effectiveness, the more subtle—and perhaps realer—benefit is that you can participate in a global community with common methodologies and best practices that expand your sphere of knowledge and influence. Open source has been proven time and time again to be better, faster, and cheaper.
For agencies interested in getting involved in open source, there are huge opportunities. For instance, if a customer is looking to hire a consultancy to solve a particular problem, they have a clear choice between an agency that simply uses Drupal as opposed to one that actively contributes meaningfully to the Drupal community.
Agencies can gain a significant advantage by contributing to open source. Granted, contributing to open source as a small agency can be difficult, and bench time can often be limited for developers not actively working on projects. However, organizations that do get involved and publicize their open-source contributions tend to get meaningfully more business as a result. For instance, prominent companies in the Drupal landscape such as Amazee Labs, Phase2, Chapter Three, and others with full-time Drupal contributors often have customers reaching out directly precisely because of their commitment to open source.
Getting involved in open source can yield substantial dividends for those who engage in it. Though there are thousands upon thousands of open-source projects in the wild that you can get involved in, Drupal in particular has a highly well-developed ecosystem for organizations to get involved in open-source contribution, including user groups and Drupal conferences around the world that are looking for sponsors interested in supporting open source. As a case in point, I organize a non-profit open-source conference in New York City called Decoupled Days, about decoupled Drupal (also the subject of my book), and we’re currently looking for more sponsors!
For businesses interested in contributing to open source, there are also business summits and events, such as Drupal Business Days, that can help you connect with other organizations exploring open-source software like Drupal. And there’s no need to be a developer to contribute to open source. In fact, among the most critical needs the Drupal community perpetually has are marketing and event support. That brings us to perhaps the most important message of open-source contributions: You, too, can contribute.
Special thanks to Michael Meyers for his feedback during the writing process.