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Open tools for software engineering: validation of a theory of openness in the automotive industry
Munir H., Runeson P., Wnuk K.  EASE 2019 (Proceedings of the Evaluation and Assessment on Software Engineering, Copenhagen, Denmark,  Apr 15-17, 2019) 2-11. 2019. Type: Proceedings
Date Reviewed: Jul 29 2021

The authors look at two companies to understand the degree of adoption of open-source software (OSS) tools in the automotive industry. The study includes “a tools manager, product owners, business analysts, technical team leads, and tools engineers,” for a total of 22 participants. Participating in the co-developing of OSS tools by organizations, while allowing for proprietary product development, is increasing across multiple industries due to the ever-growing availability of OSS tools and environments. Proponents of OSS claim that (i) companies could reduce licensing costs in using proprietary tools, (ii) save development costs due to the inherent flexibility in the development environment, (iii) increase turnaround speed and faster upgrades/releases to the market, and (iv) reduce costs due to shared maintenance.

With respect to the methods applied in this paper, the authors use focus groups and surveys; they use a “repertory grid technique to analyze the survey responses.” Then, using qualitative data from focus group responses, they assess the validity of five propositions; this provides a measure of the degree of openness in a particular industry domain.

Using their openness theory as a frame of reference, they present four categorizations for the degree of openness: (1) laggards (“business as usual”); (2) leverage (“resource optimization”); (3) lucrativeness (acting as a think tank); and (4) leaders (“growth through ecosystems”). Furthermore, they adopt (and look to validate) five propositions:

(P1) “Openness of tools provides opportunities to reduce development costs.”
(P2) “Openness of tools provides opportunities to shorten the development time.”
(P3) “Openness of tools complements internal processes and product innovation.”
(P4) “The degree of investment in OSS communities has an affect on the outcome.”
(P5) “Introducing a proactive strategy, in relation to openness of tools, requires conscious management involvement.”

With this approach, the authors validate three out of the five propositions: cost and time reduction (P1 and P2) and the complementary role of open tools (P3). They lament the lack of investment in OSS communities (P4) and involved management (P5), and call for “a paradigm shift towards openness in the automotive domain” and the “standardization of tools.” They also indicate that participants from both companies confirmed the need for internal legal procedures and “an internal champion” to drive OSS strategy.

The key suggestion is that these companies create (using a champion) and utilize “an internal open tools department consisting of legal experts, developers, and managers to create a well-established procedure for using or contributing to open tools platforms,” similar to their earlier study on the telecom domain (Sony Mobile). This comparison section is very cursory--not much depth, though it could have been an excellent section for future reference across various well-defined domains, for example, manufacturing, automation, utilities, and so on. Unfortunately, most of the information presented is neither new nor surprising.

It seems that the same results would extend to any “engineering-focused” legacy industry where software has often been, and is to a significant extent viewed as, an afterthought. Software as a service (SaaS), cybersecurity, OSS, information and data sharing, and software standardization using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products are new and unexplored (or minimally explored) topics.

Reviewer:  Srini Ramaswamy Review #: CR147320 (2202-0021)
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