Lockheed Martin’s newly open sourced social networking platform, Eureka Streams, has faced FUD when it should be received with open arms.  IT decision makers can learn important lessons from Lockheed Martin when evaluating whether to open source an internal project.

The enterprise open source contribution dilemma:
While usage of open source and open source-based software products continues to grow, enterprise willingness to participate in open source projects is heading in the opposite direction. This fact was highlighted most recently in the 2010 Eclipse User Survey. The Eclipse Foundation’s Ian Skerrett wrote:

In the survey, we asked a question about the corporate policies towards open source participation. In 2009 48% claimed they could contribute back to OSS but in 2010 only 35.4% claim they could contribute back. Conversely, 41% in 2010 claimed they use open source software but do not contribute back but in 2009 it was 27.1%.

Open sourcing as a last resort:
Considering this background, one would expect any enterprise that creates an open source project would be welcomed – not always so, and sometimes for valid reasons.

Earlier this month Vodafone announced the Wayfinder open source project. The project deposited a location based services platform into the open source commons under a BSD license. However, as Wayfinder Systems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Vodafone, explains:

The operations of Wayfinder Systems has been discontinued since March 11th…and after that Vodafone decided to contribute the software to the open source community.

In short, the project was open sourced as a last resort. While Vodafone didn’t see any further business value in the code, at least they decided to offer up the technology for others to benefit from. It’s understandable however, that other enterprises may not want to adopt or contribute to a project that the project’s originators aren’t going to continue developing for their own business needs.

Enterprise founded open source done right:
Lockheed Martin’s Eureka Streams project is very different than other enterprise-founded open source projects.

Eureka Streams is not being thrown over the corporate walls in an effort to see if some other entity can benefit from the code that is no longer of value to the founding vendor. Eureka Streams is and will continue to be used by Lockheed Martin to address Lockheed’s internal social networking business requirements.

The code is available under an enterprise friendly Apache 2.0 license, meaning that other companies, including Lockheed’s competitors and open source support providers, could adopt and build a business around the social networking platform.

One could question why Lockheed would open source technology that could very well help it differentiate versus competitors – in today’s knowledge worker enterprise, social networking can help employees be more productive and improve employee satisfaction. Far from questioning Lockheed’s motives, I believe we should welcome Lockheed’s efforts in the open. I suspect that Lockheed’s executives realize that technology is of little use without employee buy-in. While Lockheed and a competitor may in fact have access to the same productivity and employee satisfaction improving technology, the processes and culture around the technology could very well help Lockheed differentiate versus their competition.

Eureka Streams is further different than other open source projects, even commercial vendor developed projects, in that the development and decision making appears to be happening in the public. Lockheed engineers on the Eureka Streams project discuss build strategies and optimal search approaches on the Eureka Streams Google Groups forum.  This helps prospective adopters understand and get involved in the project.

Five lessons learned from Eureka Streams:
First, open source an internal project that is valuable to your business and could be appealing to other enterprises. Open sourcing a project that your business no longer needs is a red flag to other enterprises that would rightly worry about the future of the project.

Second, use a liberal license for the open source project. This will address a key concern that enterprises have, especially if the project isn’t from a commercial open source vendor. A liberal license will also make it easier for a third party to provide support or value added extensions to the project. This in turn will make it easier for other enterprises to adopt the project’s technology.

Third, develop in public. The use of GitHub and Google Groups for ongoing development and project decisions is helpful in attracting other enterprises to your project. Allowing outside contributions to your project is the next step of course. Even if the majority of your users don’t take advantage of this option, it helps increase the credibility of the project.

Fourth, allocate a sufficient marketing budget to the project. Code is great, but so too is a site that suggests that the project is credible and has a future. The visually appealing website, demos and documentation, while still incomplete, quikcly suggest that Lockheed has a vested interested in the success of the project. This reduces the risk surrounding the project, making it easier for others to adopt the project.

Fifth, link the project to developer recruiting. Most young developers want to utilize and participate in open source development projects during their day jobs, and yet, not everyone can work for Google, Facebook, IBM, Oracle or the like. If nothing else, Eureka Streams is a great example of why a developer should at least consider working for Lockheed Martin.

Done properly, enterprise created open source projects have the potential of benefiting the enterprise and the open source commons. Is your company in a position to give it a try?

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