Five principles of an open source company | Opensource.com

Five principles of an open source company

Posted 20 Jun 2012 by 

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Five principles of an open source company
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Open source technology is gaining popularity and is becoming more prominent each year during various computer and technology conferences. More tech-savvy people obviously prefer software of this kind.

This, in turn, facilitates the appearance of new websites featuring the source code of useful programs at users' disposal. Generally, the idea of openness has become so widespread that we can no longer imagine our life without it. It has penetrated many aspects of our lives, and business is no exception.

In order to prosper, companies have to comply with modern standards and trends. To put it another way: truly open source companies have a better chance of succeeding than do their secretive rivals. At Ascensio System SIA, we believe in open source at multiple levels. Here are some of our key principles.

Horizontal fraternity

Ascensio System SIA--a small Latvian IT-company--is very proud of its brainchild, TeamLab. Initially, we invented TeamLab for internal communication. A collaboration platform that encompassed several features like blogs, wikis, and bookmarks seemed perfectly suited for cooperation inside the team.

This common knowledge base became a symbol of openness between various departments in the company and created a sense of unity, regardless of the department employees represented or the amount of time they worked together. The company was open for talented rookies, too. The transparency of the system has turned the process of training new specialists into a piece of cake, making every newcomer feel at ease instantly.

Vertical equality

One of the biggest problems that companies are facing today is communication failure between top managers and workers. Decision making occurs behind closed doors without any consideration of the opinion of the latter. Using TeamLab, we created a discussion platform where everyone can participate as a full member expressing his or her own opinion on anything from serious issues like open dialog with a CEO to trivial questions like the displacement of a cafeteria. Users are also capable of taking part in anonymous polls to solve minor problems.

Source code matters

Reaching a certain level of internal collaboration is essential to improving a company's general performance, but the problem is: that doesn't make you open to your primary audience. One of the most fundamental and effective means of establishing your adherence to open source is to reveal your source code to the public.

Young information technology companies can't boast a long history of trusting relations with multiple customers, so they must do something to break the ice with potential end users. Providing the ability to work on the source code of your product together with your clients has proven to be an impetus for long-lasting partnerships.

Two-way communication

In order to create an outstanding service one has to be well aware of customers' needs. Emails to support teams with suggestions for improving a particular service are not uncommon, but that's just the basic level of interaction with clients. After reviewing the most requested ideas, we implemented a special feedback form with which users could share their thoughts, vote for suggestions proposed by others, or simply comment on the improvements made. This ensures maximum transparency, enables our clients to communicate jointly, and allows us to modify our roadmap in compliance with users' demands.

Multilingual approach

Demonstrating genuine openness to the world means pushing one's linguistic potential to the limit. Currently, TeamLab understands 15 languages. This achievement wouldn't be possible without our community of contributors from every corner of the globe who are willing to help TeamLab overcome language barriers.

Some say knowing more languages makes one more complete person. The same principle applies to the products under development. One's eagerness to be understood will always be appreciated by a community and will result in closer collaboration.

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16 Comments

shawnhcorey
Open Minded

"In order to create an outstanding service one has to be well aware of customers' needs."

You're kidding, right? You actually have to tell companies that the customer is always right? And people wonder why the economic is so focked up.

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Mitnikov
Open Enthusiast

In my opinion the statement "customer is always right" is not equal to "I know what the customer needs".

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shawnhcorey
Open Minded

"The customer is always right" means you have to listen to the customer to find out what they want. Don't guess, ask.

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Platformula1
Newbie

Open source communities have emerged as counterweights to traditional proprietary software standards, and the market dominance of those software superpowers that own those proprietary standards. However, there is much to learn from traditional software superpowers in terms of 'the business of software'. And as many software superpowers (IBM, Oracle, Microsoft) find ways to 'embrace and extend' the open source movement for their own commercial ends, the two paths are converging. This means competitive strategy and execution separate the winners and losers. We need a more robust conversation on the interoperability (in the business sense of the term) of open source communities and commercial software success. In my book "Asymmetric Marketing" I lay out some of Red Hat's best practices in this area. This post is a good start to a much needed conversation.

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Jacky Pang
Open Enthusiast

Everything I agree with. But of the 5, I do disagree with one. Vertical Equality.

I think that it is sometimes important for any business - even an open-source one - to have things that happen behind closed doors. I mean yes, everyone needs to know what they are doing, but small things that management needs to know may not be what a technical person needs to know about.

Company agendas for example, involve everyone within the company. However, not everyone needs to know about each and every part.

Individuals need to know a bit more than what they need. But I don't think they need to know everything. Plus, I would not see how Vertical Equality would interfere with any of the other 4 criteria.

Great article!

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Mitnikov
Open Enthusiast

Jacky, thank you for your comment and article evaluation. I totally agree with you. Vertical equality was never meant to be universal for every single issue a company is facing. It's all about having an opportunity to discuss the so-called "common issues" together, not about being obliged to do that. I don't mean to question the role of top management. I only wanted to point out that it's the regular workers whose opinion should be considered in some cases.

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shawnhcorey
Open Minded

I disagree. If there are employees in your company that don't know everything about what's going on, they could inadvertently work at cross purposes to your plan. And you lose their input on the planning.

Your business is your customers. Everything else is secondary. Not allowing your employees, the ones who talk directly to your customers, help with your planning means you're not paying attention to your customers. That means you're going to lose sales. Keeping a valuable resource like this out of the loop is just dumb.

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Mitnikov
Open Enthusiast

Vertical Equality is undoubtedly an indispensable principle. But if overused, it can damage the company. The problem you are talking about "employees in your company that don't know everything about what's going on" can be tackled by horizontal fraternity, namely a good collaboration tool. What I'm driving at is the fact that top management absolutely has to communicate with workers as much as possible, but some of the decisions still have to be made on their own, like implementing a monetization plan for instance.

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shawnhcorey
Open Minded

I disagree. MBAs can't run a company. Take a look at Microsoft, Apple, HP. Your customers are your business. Everything else is secondary, including your monetization plan. Plans made by top management because "they know best", don't work. If you don't get input from all your employees, you're just stumbling around in the dark.

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Jacky Pang
Open Enthusiast

No one said anything about removing communication all together. I am merely stating that not everything must be disclosed to every part of the company. This would be a logistical disaster.

Management understands the need to "gather input from all their employees" and so do MBA's. So Shawn, you're right, MBAs cannot run the business by themselves. However, this only means two-way communication is crucial, not vertical equality.

If one thought vertical equality was as important, that one may be suggesting a junior sales rep should decide how much the business should invest in next years total investments for a new product launch, marketing, research and so forth.

Smart management teams do reseach projects before acting. These prologues to their actions include communicating with their employees. They do not ignore input offered by employees (if they did, it would be communication) and they certainly do not "stumble in the dark."

And this again goes back to the importance of two-way communications. That is what's important. Management should never disclose everything to every part of the business. As long as everyone understands the common goal, everyone will work hard to achieve that goal (communication). However, not everyone needs to know everything.

*Two way communications should not only apply to clients, but also internally.

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shawnhcorey
Open Minded

Good managers do not make good decisions. Good managers make environments where their employees can make good decisions. The difference from top-down management is that the best decision is out there; management has to find it, not make it. And yes, everyone needs to know everything or you'll never find the best decision. Worst, many managers will think that they know more about the customers than those who talk with them every day. It's this egotism and elitism that screws up companies.

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Jacky Pang
Open Enthusiast

What emanates environments? Decisions. Like all things, they are created by decisions, for more decisions to be made. So I agree with you that management creates environments (through decisions) for their employees to make great decisions as well.

However, as to if everyone needs to know everything, I still tend to respectfully disagree. Many employees, even great ones, may not want to be succumbed by the heaps of information that management has. Not many sales rep will want to know every financial figure from last years fiscal period. Things like that, things that don't affect their performance at work, can be seen as a hindrance sometimes.

And of course, management do not always know the best. We understand that they are not the people interacting with their clients and customers. And that is where, again, communication (vertical and horizontal) plays a major role. An effective organization will have efficient and effective means of two-way communications.

And to the point, many things can screw up a company. From one stupid to one ignorant decision.

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shawnhcorey
Open Minded

Now you're back to managers making decisions, not finding them. And It's not that everyone must know everything; it's that everyone can know everything.

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Jacky Pang
Open Enthusiast

That is where I currently stand. Perhaps you can enlighten me further?

Yes, people "can" benefit from knowing everything. It depends on the nature of the business.

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shawnhcorey
Open Minded

In other words, you believe in top-down management: that a single person with limited knowledge from a single, tainted source can consistently make better decisions than a large number of people with unlimited access to multiple sources, many of which are hostile.

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Jacky Pang
Open Enthusiast

I think I see what you are trying to get at. But I feel that everything is best with a good mix of tactics. I view it as striking a good balance between the two. One can maintain a very open structure while still having management.

For instance, many people with expertise choose not to start their own business because being an entrepreneur brings along a lot of other duties that one may not want to be stuck with. Such individuals exist even within an OS project.

And for another thing, I have always reiterated that great companies do not have one misinformed group who is detached from reality making the decisions. What I stand for is a open business in which management will take opinions from all levels into consideration. This open two-way communication is what I think is important to any business, even non-OS ones.

And I never stated of attempted I infer that people are hostile...just that some people may not be concerned about knowing very thing. Some people like to do their part and then say good night.

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Alexander Mitnikov is a freelance translator interested in modern business and technology trends. His passion is software that helps entrepreneurs and freelancers like himself enhance their work processes. He is currently working at Ascensio Systems SIA, the developer of TeamLab - a productivity platform for businesses.

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