Design StandardizationEngineering & Design

How the ‘Open Source Way’ Can be Applied to the Engineering Services Industry

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by Derrick Koenig
Engineering service providers and their customers (who are often the copyright holders) stand to gain significantly from the smart application of the open source way. There are many great reasons to do so.
Could the ‘Open Source Way’ be the key to revolutionizing the engineering service industry? I believe this industry needs a revolution. After interviewing nearly 100 individuals over the last 6 months across several industries, I can boldly state that many believe that a revolutionary change is needed. But what is open source and how could it apply to this industry?
The term open source was originally adopted by those in software development (which includes software engineers). However, this model of collaboration has scaled well beyond software to the point where it is now considered by many to be the front of innovation for technology.
By definition, open source software is computer software with its source code made available with a license in which the copyright holder provides the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose.
But proponents of the open source way are not stopping at software; they are finding new ways to apply the ideas behind open source to almost every aspect of people’s lives. For example, OpenAG collects and shares data that can be used toward more efficient and economical growth practices that can, for example, reduce water consumption and increase speed of crop growth. In a similar manner, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the first to open source their content, enabling students from under-privileged backgrounds to learn from state-of-the-art content.
Engineering service providers and their customers (who are often the copyright holders) stand to gain significantly from the smart application of the open source way. There are many great reasons to do so.
Based on Ben Bromhead’s article, “10 advantages of open source for the enterprise”, the following are 8 key points to consider.


8 Key Reasons to Consider the “Open Source” Way

1. Community. The engineering community is strategically important in developing and transferring technology for the use and benefit of society. Any movement towards uniting this global community around improving solutions will introduce new concepts and capabilities faster, better, and more effectively than internal teams working on proprietary solutions. Are such benefits not what we as engineers want to bring to the world?
2. Value. Open source may be the key to engineering companies maximizing value to their clients, and in turn their customers maximizing value to their shareholders. Although open source solutions typically use a ‘free licensing’ model, a low-cost licensing fee model may make more sense in this highly commercialized market, at least in the early days of adoption. The first step is to begin openly sharing non-proprietary technology and past designs. It is important to keep in mind that the open source model is not anti-profit.
3. The Power of the Crowd. Many hands can deliver powerful outcomes. The collective power of a community of talented individuals working in concert delivers not only more ideas, but quicker development and troubleshooting when issues arise.
4. Transparency. Open source means just that—you get full access to all relevant design information, as well as all discussions about how the community has addressed design flaws or shortcomings. In contrast, proprietary designs produced in secrecy may come with unforeseen limitations and other unwelcome surprises. With open source, you see exactly what you’re getting and have a community of skilled professionals continuously furthering the design.
5. Reliability and Quality. Some engineers argue that building upon someone else’s design is risky and equivalent to finding ‘the needle in a haystack’. However, the application of the open source way to software has proven otherwise. Because there are more eyes on it, the reliability of open source code tends to be superior. With a worldwide community supporting a code base—rather than one team within one company—code is developed on online forums and guided by experts. The output tends to be extremely robust, tried, and tested code. In fact, open source code now powers about 90% of the internet and is being rapidly adopted across major enterprises for this reason.
6. Faster time to market. As the availability of open source designs grow, solutions to your project will be easily available and easily explored at an affordable price-point. By investigating options for your project through leveraging past designs, faster and more accurate cost estimates will allow you to get your project off the ground quicker and with more certainty.
7. Diversification. Strong relationships between engineering service providers and their companies are critical to successful projects. However, projects outside of your favorite engineering company’s ‘wheelhouse’ can force you to look towards other engineering firms. By leveraging past designs, your existing engineering company can significantly diversify their ‘know how’ and thus their offerings.
8. Leadership. As the adoption of open source thinking by the engineering community becomes the norm, we will be in a leadership role to help other professions, industries and markets realize similar benefits.
Through the development of a strong, supportive community that is energized to continually advance innovation, “Open Source Design” will be at the forefront of advancing technology to benefit both industry and society in general.

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