Google Open Source Programs Office: The business impact of open source

Creative, exciting applications of open source software can be found worldwide, and who better to share the details of new use cases than the practitioners themselves. In this blog series we’ll feature guests who told their open source stories during Practical Open Source Information (POSI) 2021, an online conference hosted by OSI. Check this channel for more practical open source stories.

Amanda Casari is an open source scientist with the Google Open Source Programs Office where she leads Google’s research and engineering work with Project OCEAN. Open source programs offices (OSPOs) are established in organizations as a means to centralize policies, strategies, and guidance, and to ensure common practices across complex teams working on open source projects. Amanda offers some structure for any organization working with open source that is considering starting an OSPO of their own.

Good program management practices, not just technology management, are essential for managing open source in organizations. Effective tracking and communication of business impact of an open source program relies on knowing the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of your program. These answers help define expectations, needs, shared outcomes, and future opportunities for collaboration. Additionally, identifying stakeholders at this early stage is important in developing a consistent and effective communication plan for your open source project.

Measuring the business impact of open source in an organization is a key function of an OSPO. Amanda notes that as compared to other metrics of measuring success, impact is the lens through which to look at open source projects. ROI, an economic model frequently used, is too simplistic to capture the complexities of open source ecosystems. Community investment for things such as onboarding new code reviewers, teaching them how to track down bugs, and other sponsorship work in a program is not something that can be measured by traditional ROI models such as hourly pay and tracked time, yet it’s core to the value of open source projects. At Google they use an input-output model of “Investment : Impact.” What goes into the programs and how success is measured in those programs is gauged using useful metrics and KPIs.

The notion of metrics isn’t always embraced in an open source environment. Amanda clarifies that when she and her team at Google work with metrics, they’re working with qualitative and quantitative measurements, recorded (and unavoidably biased) observations with an understanding of the motive behind them. A sense of curiosity can lead to the story that the data tells about what you’re observing. That story needs to tie back to the visions established for your unique organization and stakeholders in order to demonstrate success.

KPIs are a specific kind of metric that indicates what success looks like for a program so you know you’re meeting your goals and the goals of your stakeholders. It’s important that you’re tracking these markers and understand what the frequency, format expectations, and communication methods should be used.

If you’re interested in digging deeper into the impact model guidelines Amanda shares based on her work at Google, you can watch her video from the POSI event below:


The previous blog in this series features OSI members from RedHat in “Moving from a proprietary to an open source culture.” Click the link to read it, and come back to catch our next featured member from the Practical Open Source Information (POSI) 2021 in the coming weeks.