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Debunking open-source myths to unlock innovation opportunities for Singapore

Pierluigi Cau
Pierluigi Cau • 4 min read
Debunking open-source myths to unlock innovation opportunities for Singapore
Open source is a platform for innovation, not just a technology-led solution to scale back costs. Photo: Unsplash
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Open-source software is changing the world. So much so that 99% of software projects today contain at least one open-source component, if not more. As a result, it is driving – and accelerating – innovation in nearly every industry and business sector, at a time when there is growing reliance on new approaches to tackle societal issues and business transformation.

Adoption of open source is rising fast everywhere. In Singapore alone, the number of developers on GitHub grew by over 150,000 in 2021, reaching a total of more than half a million. This should not come as too much of a surprise. After all, Asia Pacific has a strong heritage when it comes to open source.

In fact, a recent research by enterprise open-source software provider Red Hat found that over two-thirds of IT leaders in the region use it in some capacity. In addition, Singapore has long been viewed as a leading adopter of open source, led in no small part by progressive government policies that champion its use and the benefits on offer.

However, there are still lingering misconceptions of open source that are holding it back from realising its full potential to transform both Singapore businesses and the economy as a whole. These misconceptions occur across enterprises in all major sectors and typically fall into three main categories:

Security at scale

Many Singapore enterprises are still concerned about open source’s ability to ensure security at scale – which is preventing them from unlocking its true benefits. However, the truth is open source can improve security.

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Implementing a DevSecOps (development, security and operations) strategy for software development bakes security into every process, which makes security a community responsibility. The result is more reliable software, shipped more quickly.

The knock-on effect for businesses is their ability to innovate at speed increases dramatically. So much so that market intelligence and advisory firm International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts DevSecOps will drive at least 50% of new applications in Asia Pacific by 2024, largely because it shortens software development life-cycles.

Enterprises that resist DevSecOps will find it harder to infuse security into their development process and will struggle to embed open source into the core of their business, missing out on a major innovation opportunity. Even businesses that prefer to develop private intellectual property (IP) can adopt an “innersource” strategy, allowing them to harness the power of open source and its security advantages, while keeping code within the boundaries of their organisation’s firewall.

See also: The cybersecurity parasite hiding in plain sight

Collaboration culture

There is a new wave of innovative companies coming to the fore, which gives back to open source as much as, if not more than, they consume it. This enables any organisation to effectively “stand on the shoulders of giants’ by building on leading-edge software projects developed by the best.

The more companies follow this approach, the richer the open-source ecosystem becomes. For example, Capillary Technologies, headquartered in Singapore, relies heavily on open-source code. At the same time, the customer engagement and e-commerce company gives back to the open-source community by reporting bugs and patches to projects like Apache Livy, Apache Spark, Maxwell and Azkaban.

There are currently millions of developers in the open-source community around the world – all of whom can provide support and help solve challenges, with more than 73 million of them calling GitHub home. Tapping into their expertise and commitment is critical to the ethos of open source. Simply paying lip service to open-source adoption severely limits its ability to act as an agent of change. The relationship needs to be symbiotic to power innovation.

Role of developers in innovation

Effective open-source development is the fastest route to innovation and modernisation needs to happen at every level. What’s more, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the value the developer community brings will help build a supportive environment that can fast-track change more effectively.

Creating an environment that equips developers to expedite innovation hinges on cultural change. Innovation cannot simply be bought by providing developers access to the latest tools. It is enabled by a deeper change that recognises the transformative power of developers to influence business performance. When that penny drops, businesses are more motivated and incentivised to eliminate traditional silos in the development process and to provide the optimal conditions for developers to drive ground-breaking – and secure – innovation.

Despite the rapid growth of open source throughout Singapore and the wider Asia Pacific region, dispelling misperceptions about open-source once and for all will be key to future success. Ultimately, open source is a platform for innovation, not just a technology-led solution to scale back costs. Only when this is recognised can open source deliver the economic and social impact in Singapore that it is capable of.

Pierluigi Cau is the regional director of Field Services for APAC at GitHub

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