A Major Step for Open Source in Europe

21 November 2019

Author: Graham Taylor

As long-time supporters of Open Source, we had high expectations of last week’s European Commission ambitious workshop ‘Open Source Beyond 2020’. These expectations were exceeded. The event gathered an impressive group of representatives of the relevant stakeholder groups, spanning industry, research, advocacy, and policy-making. But what was particularly encouraging was the way the Commission actively sought fresh ideas on how the Open Source opportunity for Europe could be maximised.

It was helpful that DG CNECT and DIGIT jointly hosted the event, bringing together their experiences and initiatives. Two intensive days of insightful panels and discussions with practitioners from around Europe gave a strong feeling of pragmatism rather than rhetoric.

Contributing to the Workshop CEO Sachiko Muto spoke on the role of Open Source as innovation enabler and the role of Standards in Open Source, and our research director Sivan Pätsch shared his insights on digital skills for Open Source. But it was particularly pleasing to see many of the OpenForum Academy Fellows giving expert opinion.

Open Source has reached global ubiquity within software development so it is fundamental that Europe understands how to maximise the potential impact for economic development, business and citizens. The European Commission employed a proactive approach when it came to listening to the broad community in planning and delivering the workshop. This holds high hopes for the future of digital openness in Europe and possibilities of cross-industry and cross-institutional cooperation. But to date much of the success has come from bottom up initiatives. Just what are the policy and leadership measures that the Commission could take that would positively affect the outcome? Are there any? Are they really needed?

We have a lot to digest, but here are our initial key takeaways and reflections after this milestone event for European Open Source:

  • We have experienced a paradigm shift among industry players in the broader context of a cultural change favouring openness. For companies, it is often not economically viable anymore to be islands. Collaboration, even with competitors, is becoming the norm. Customers expect interoperability from their digital products and services. The Commission should support European companies in their efforts of being competitive in the digital era by supporting interoperability. Open Standards still need to be encouraged, recognising that many will now emanate out of APIs developed in Open Source communities.
  • The long term sustainability of Open Source communities including Open Governance is a key to fostering Open Source. Can the EC support best practice?
  • We may need to rethink the metrics of innovation. Patents are not the sole way of measuring innovation, as Open Source shows.
  • Public administrations play a vital role in promoting and supporting Open Source. Public procurement has a huge impact on the market and it is clear that Open Source is not well understood by procurement officers. Improving discoverability of Open Source solutions is an important first step where the EC could help.
  • We need transferable digital skills in the modern digital society. The Open Source model promotes skills that are not dependent on the provider, are more future-proof and focus on users’ ability to navigate software independently. We cannot perceive digital skills in isolation and we have to be mindful of cultural, technological and policy landscape.
  • Open Source Hardware (OSH) ecosystem has yet to achieve the maturity level of Open Source Software. However, it offers many benefits and opportunities to the European economy. We welcome the European Commission’s effort to recognize it and providing the space for some of the great actors in the OSH environment. One of the areas where Europe should harness OSH’s innovative potential is edge computing and IoT. This is a high-potential, highly-competitive market and a subject of interest for many industry players. In order to compete globally, we need more collaboration in this fragmented space.
  • We should look to the Open Source Software ecosystem’s developments in terms of policies, building communities and partnerships for lessons that can apply to promoting development of OSH.

The Commission showed that it is eager to listen, so we encourage the community to follow up, and for the EC to make plans to continue this important conversation on policy, Open Source and Europe’s digital future.

To know more: see the full agenda and all speakers here, or check the #OSSbeyond2020 hashtag on Twitter.

Graham Taylor, Chairman and Co-Founder OFE