Corporate Open Source

One concept that is under active discussion for the past decade or so but constantly being misunderstood. Open Source is often taken as a label for software downloaded from the internet, packages free of charge, components under a particular license filed under “Creative”. Often enough it’s misused for lower quality software, which reality has proven wrong by 2017, not to mention the issue with intellectual property.

However, there are many much more aspects to the concept, that add substantial value to any software centrist product organisation. And in times of digitalisation and digital transformation, software will move into the value chain of many organisation that don’t anticipate it yet. Whenever a customer offering is complex and / or service based, transparency and documentation are often key to a satisfactory result and efficient processes.

Open source may not be the one single bullet for any organization, but the concept will help becoming more transparent and efficient.

Single Source of Truth

While SharePoint is a powerful tool with many opportunities to improve processes, many organisations use it to maintain a file server. Which has information about any other effort, therefore creating a large spread between the tangible product and the then theoretical documentation. Not to mention the version horror everybody experienced at least once, trying to ask a few people for the latest version.

Reversing this process through Wiki or even Version Control Repositories allows to keep only one version, that is automatically the latest. Software will take care of all versioning, that would go in filenames_v01_final.docx otherwise.

Transparency

Adding together the product with documentation allows quick reference, pointing back and forth between customer facing and engineering. While this may sound terrible technical, the nasty guts of any product can still be ignored by those who don’t need to see it. However, for those requiring insight, they don’t have to go through a process to see it. Or even have to talk to a colleague first and ask. Oh, and the colleague will be on vacation anyway.

Opening the product internals will remove any barrier to productive work and allow employees for quick insight. Obviously, some may argue an open repository may lead to uncontrollable product results, but that’s actually a different point. Write access or merge credentials are not required for anybody without responsibility.

Applicable Metrics

To shape it all up, the management world has plenty of nice metrics that can be applied to measure the whole thing. Not all of them express quality by themselves, but applied consciously these can carry a product far.

Documentation Coverage is something that will serve as a great basis for the point I’m trying to make here. With closed projects, or engineering only code, it’s often difficult to understand whether a product, feature or bug is actually just badly documented or the colleague just doesn’t want to help.

With a metric to measure percentage of a product being documented, at a minimum the amount of available documentation can be measured. And with the product internals being transparent, any reader can – at least theoretically – see whether the documentation correctly corresponds.

Conclusion

While being a strong supporter of open source software in general, I’m not trying to make a point for open sourcing anything outside an organisation. However, transparency will help any organisation improve the offering and processes. And the concept of open source will help achieve this transparency. It has a hurdle to overcome, in particular management will have to overcome their fear of software and technology to adopt this concept, but the step is worth taking on the way to digital transformation.

Change.

Yesterday, a software engineer, also new to the organization, roughly told me the following. The way the organisation plans projects is so different to what he is used to as a software engineer. Planning projects with a horizon of 12 or even 24 months is something he says he just cannot wrap his head around.

While this is very common and necessary in the hardware industry, it is indeed something terribly alienating software people. Software is typically treated as a living product, that takes tiny changes at a time, it is more governed towards a direction to take than having the one exact goal it has to hit by a specific date.

These very fundamental goals both mindsets follow make it difficult for change to happen. While the software engineer above obviously has a point to make, he cannot reach the people he needs to reach, because both sides are just too far apart.

At the same time, I don’t yet have an answer to the problem, but the problem itself became so obvious when this colleague told me he just doesn’t know what to say. The digital world does not yet have a common language, not to mention a common way to think about approaching problems, and unless this hurdle is taken, change will only happen slowly.

Mix and Mingle

The past weekend I traveled internationally to work with colleagues on another continent. I’m a lucky volunteering member of IEEE, and so I reached out to the community before I jumped on my flight.

Turns out I have friends in this city, and so I spent a whole afternoon learning about the city and the eventualities it brings along.

Both my old friend and me agreed throughout our conversation that networking is an important activity, and having built an extensive network is an enormous asset.

While IEEE is only one opportunity to meet people, it is a solid recommendation for engineers to actually pick up this activity in first place, even though it may not seem obvious at the beginning of the individual career. Working with and knowing many people is all too often underestimated and need strong soft skills. But even those can be trained, just like engineering can be tought.

Lifelong Learning

IEEE’s Educational Activities Committee (EAC) invited me for their regular meeting, that happens May 13th and 14th in Porto, Portugal. Me being there is to represent Action for Industry Committee (AfI). On first priority, the attendance is to foster inter-committee cooperation. However, one of the items we’d love to promote to industry, but to everybody else, is that education is important. In particular in Industry, where innovation and therefore differentiation from the competition is key to any activity.

To make the point about lifelong learning: upcoming, innovative technology trends, just to mention the Internet of Things, Electromobility or Autonomous-Driving require broad sets of expertise’s, abilities and complex organisations to come to life.

The Internet of Things, while being a vague term, is often associated with an App controlling a device remotely. While this looks easy on the outside, looking into the workings of such a product, it typically requires skills from 2 mobile platforms, Android and iOS, potentially Web. The connectivity part requires knowledge about transport protocols, that need splitting into IP protocols and constraint field busses. The cloud end alone is typically broken down into data transfer, data storage and data processing, while the field offers a broad choice of communication protocols and physical layers, all for different purposes and use cases. Not to mention the engineering, design, production process and supply chain that yields a physical device that a consumer wants to control. Adding in service based products, that give a customer a better understanding of usage patterns, energy savings, potentiation gameification of product use, require data processing and analytics.

This very high level example requires at least 3 major degrees, again, not mentioning the business administration side, that’d increase the count to 4 major degrees, with about 3 minors each, just on the upside estimate.  Highly complex products like this need highly skilled engineers and managers, that do not only need to execute on producing and operating a device, but also keep up on technical ability to stay on top of upcoming technologies, processes and procedures.

Lastly, any requirement to understand peering functions and technology makes the final argument for lifelong learning, because not only does the world change so fast, there is always fields interfering with an engineers major in an evolving market. This way, lifelong learning is not only something desirable to one self’s development, but a fundamental requirement to stay ahead of the market.

IEEE’s main pillars are academic publications, conferences and standards, all carried by an overwhelming number of volunteers. These are all, with no doubt, convinced that sharing knowledge increases knowledge. The really differentiating fact for IEEE is these are not from a single domain of research, but these ~420.000 members are organised in 39 technical societies, spanning all different kinds of technology and research.

Through this large spectrum of interest and the volunteering nature of the organisation, it enables lifelong learning through the exchange of ideas and knowledge alone, with Committees like the EAC fostering the activity, and Action for Industry keeping the relationship with engineers in industry.

On Digitalised Product Management

Again. Having read the few words from yesterday, it’s probably difficult to follow. So, let me try a bit more structured to write up on the points I was trying to make are:

  1. Product and Service Business are different cultures.
  2. Both have established methods.
  3. Digitisation requires Digital Transformation.
  4. Digital Transformation won’t happen without a conscious decision.
  5. Digitised Products need to consider both.

Product vs. Services Business

This is the part with the margins. While the first lives off high enough margins in the retail chain, the later lives off customer satisfaction, with basically very thin margins.

Management Methods

Things require a stock and supply chain. A service requires time to response and time to resolution. Or response time, for interactive services. And so do physical projects require different management methods than services do.

Digitisation requires Digital Transformation

Putting a chip in it is not the single answer to achieve Digital Transformation. It requires to combine product and services business and that process is the actual transformation people are looking at.

Digital Transformation won’t happen without a conscious decision

Very much as #3, just putting a chip into a product will not be sufficient, because the product will work so much different than before and the customers expectations will not be the same either. However, it requires a component that contradicts traditional management behavior as well as financial expectations. Therefore, somebody high enough will have to take a decision and carry it until Digital Transformation happens.

Digitised Products need to consider both

And so, finally, a digitise product needs to be managed with services and the tangible parts in mind. While a product is produced, a service is operated. The product will have development cycles that are much longer and the supply chain needs to be managed, while at the same time the service attached to the product needs to work to the customers expectations and evolve much different.