KPIT Cummins is a leading global IT Consulting organisation that caters to implementation of enterprise-wide solutions in the automotive, industrial and other segments. A few years back they shook hands with open source technology. Shirish Patwardhan, CTO and chief architect, KPIT Cummins, throws light on the growing market for FOSS solutions and the opportunity it brings along for the Indian FOSS community and industry players like KPIT during his discussion with Vanisha Joseph.
Is FOSS/Linux a fertile terrain for IT professionals? What are the reasons behind this growing demand?
There is huge demand and growing opportunity for FOSS/Linux experts. The demand for them increased manifold during the recent recession when IT architects and managers were forced to think differently and explore the value proposition offered by open source. Crucial sectors driving the demand for FOSS experts in IT industry are government and SMEs segments. The government has been encouraging open source in many e-governance projects. Alongside, many SMEs are going in for FOSS as they see a business proposition in the depreciating IT costs.
Are there any hindrance you’ll foresee in this demand for FOSS/Linux and FOSS experts?
Though the FOSS community, experts, etc, have come a long way in overcoming concerns related to security, etc, the mindset problem of equating open source with no cost remains a challenge to the mass adoption of FOSS. There is a need to educate IT managers about the different kind of open source licenses, the absence of license costs and presence of maintenance cost when one talks about open source technology, to enable them get maximum benefit using open source. Conquering these hindrances will strengthen the value and business proposition around open source that is sure to drive the demand for FOSS and FOSS experts.
Is FOSS a boon during project development?
Yes, the use of FOSS provides immense value add to project development in the short-term and long-term period. The short-term value is the initial cash flow. The long-term value adds include support by the community ensuring the platform/tools are well tested and helping the company cracks bottlenecks faced in open source project development. Another value add during project development is the easy integration of open source. Alongside, if the platform is mature and stable, there is a chance that the use of open source might reduce the time to market. However, in the case of a nascent open source platform, it might prove otherwise as experimentation and building on the open source platform is time consuming and most likely to cause project delays.
Do you think adopting open source technology can cut down the cost of any project, significantly?
Open source technology, if used wisely, has potential to reduce costs. Often people relate open source with no costs. If you opt for a tried and tested open source platform the cost advantage is huge. However, a nascent platform requires numerous customisations that comes along with added support/maintenance costs, hereby diluting the license cost advantage related to open source technology.
Which open source technologies does KPIT Cummins use?
We use a wide range of open source technologies stretching from programming languages like Java, Perl, PHP, to MySQL, PostgreSQL for database management. We also use operating systems like Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), SUSE and Fedora. Further, we use project management tools like Subversion (version control system) and Cruise Control (open source framework for automating builds).
What has been the contribution of developers at KPIT Cummins towards open source?
KPIT Cummins has a large team working on GNU compiler projects. These compilers are available for multiple chips and our developers support compilers for specific chips. Further, our developers work on optimising the code, debugging the code, etc. For instance, they have developed GNU tool chains that are free, user-friendly for Renesas micros.
Our developers have also contributed towards Nagios, which is an open source enterprise monitoring tool. They have developed connectors to specific devices and contributed to the open source fraternity. We also use open source in our architecture and have contributed to the open source community of Alfresco, JBoss, etc.
Is the open source technology talent available in the market proficient enough? If not, as an adopter of open source technology how do you’ll fill the gap?
There is a shortage of experts in the open source domain. At KPIT, we do not hire open source experts. We hire skilled IT professionals and then train them in open source technology as per the requirements. We conduct generic programmes around open source technologies. These programmes are short duration courses of two weeks for specific projects. For instance, we conduct such training programmes regularly for our team working on GNU compilers. Further, we call in open source experts from communities for talks with our professionals.
What hiccups do you’ll face today with regards to the adoption of open source technology? How are you’ll resolving it?
Open source is being equated with being free. Customers have very little understanding of the licensing options available, which remains a challenge to companies with open source offerings like us. We are overcoming this challenge by educating customers of the possible scenarios with respect to usage and the practical advantages of open source.
Do you have any team involved in R&D for any of your open source projects? What is the process of your intake for FOSS experts?
We do not have a specific team working on R&D for open source projects but our solutions team works on innovations around open source technologies too. Of the 4,800- 5,000 employees at KPIT Cummins, we have around 150 IT professionals in this team and most have been well trained on one open source skill set or another. About hiring, as stated earlier we do not hire open source experts, as we cannot do business only related to FOSS/Linux. We hire skilled IT professionals and then trained them on FOSS.
Looking ahead, what direction will KPIT Cummins take in the FOSS/Linux world?
Open source shall continue to remain an important area for us. KPIT Cummins is focusing on open source solutions in the manufacturing domain. So far, our focus has been on infrastructure related open source projects. Looking ahead, we hope to work on open source application related projects.
What kind of solutions are you seeking from the open source community?
We are seeking more of standardisation amongst the open source community and interoperability between similar solutions. This would give us better options to choose from. We also need more focus on application software and not just infrastructure related software.
Any message/suggestion that would you like to convey to the FOSS community?
The FOSS developers and community are doing great work. But as an adopter of open source technology, we face a problem of too many FOSS developers/communities doing too many things. If the FOSS community could work in one direction and focus on a few projects, it would be very helpful to companies like ours.
What advice would you give other heads of operations of technology firms who are planning to use open source tools for software development?
I would advise them to use open source with open arms and open eyes so as to take decisions based on the appropriateness of a particular technology for a particular requirement.