What is the Point of Osmosoft?
Osmosoft is the team of a dozen people that I lead within BT. It is the result of BT buying my tiny open source company in May last year. To the consternation of their corporate finance people, they did this despite there being no staff, no revenue, no sales, no customers in the conventional sense, and no “intellectual property” (the rights having already been made over to a non-profit organisation in Silicon Valley).
I was told that the rationale for the acquisition was something like this:
“We see innovation happening on the edges of open source communities, and we need to understand how it works”
It’s pretty refreshing that it talks about communities and innovation, and not, say, just something about lowering license fees. That statement was one of the reasons that I pursued the opportunity with BT. After a few conversations with my boss, I arrived at a basic set of four goals to sit under that rationale:
- Drive adoption and improve the BT Web21C SDK by developing open source applications to exploit it
- Build a world-class open source web development team, exploring how open source can make it easier to find and assess talent
- Contribute to the innovation and adoption of the TiddlyWiki system, exploring the central question of how innovation occurs in communities
- Do all of these things transparently and publically, so that others in BT can follow us and learn from our mistakes
After a few months it became clear that we needed to improve our approach to the governance of open source usage and contributions within BT. I was given responsibility for it, and we added a fifth goal:
- Evolve governance policies and procedures to remove the internal obstacles to working with open source, to maximise the benefit from doing so, and to protect BT from any attendant risks
In doing all of that, we adopted a few basic principles to guide us:
- Show, rather than tell. The best way to learn about something is to experience it directly
- Communicate with our colleagues across BT using the public internet to ensure the widest audience, and to allow collaboration with other organisations involved in similar endeavours
- Put developers together in the same room to maximise the collaborative bandwidth
- Treat TiddlyWiki as a microcosm of the kinds of open source projects BT might be interested in, particularly in terms of the innovation that can be seen in the TiddlyWiki community
In subsequent posts, I’ll talk about our progress against those five goals, and some of the work we’re doing to evolve decent metrics for the success of our work.