Open Source: Key to driving innovation for Singapore SMEs

Pierluigi Cau, Regional Director of Field Services APAC, GitHub

Having lived and worked in many countries, I can understand why Singapore is seen as an innovation hub globally. According to the Global Innovation Index (GII), Singapore has consistently been among the top 10 most innovative economies for the past 14 years. 

Our island city also attracts world-class, international organisations to its shores. On average, more than 5,000 new businesses are registered in Singapore each month. The country undoubtedly provides a fantastic platform for innovation – and if used properly – this will see Singapore punching above its weight on the global stage.

But what does this mean for SMEs, which make up 99% of all enterprises in Singapore? How can they capitalise on this and thrive in today’s pressure cooker business environment, which has been intensified by a rising demand for digital services? 

So far, the influx of global businesses coming into Singapore has had a compounding effect on SMEs. They are fighting for tech talent, with companies like China’s Tencent, US-based Zoom, and Southeast Asia unicorns Grab and Sea, scaling up their operations locally. SMEs are also facing mounting pressure to innovate faster to stay ahead in this competitive new environment. 

Against the backdrop of Singapore’s digitally competitive landscape, open source presents an ideal opportunity for SMEs who are looking to fast-track their digital transformation journeys and accelerate innovation. Worldwide, open source is powering the applications IT teams use every day.

In fact, today 99% of software projects are built using open source components. Open source has become the de facto way of developing software that powers businesses across virtually every industry, and here’s why SMEs should start exploring the world of open source as well.

Drive faster innovation

Demand for digital products and services is booming in Singapore and Southeast Asia. An enormous 40 million new digital consumers joined the internet in 2021, bringing the region’s internet penetration to 75%. With demand for digital services only increasing, how can SMEs keep up?

Open source is rooted in the principle that software should be available for anyone to download and modify. This is good news for SMEs who can stand on the shoulders of giants by leveraging world leading software projects that have already been created. Doing so empowers SMEs to focus on their core business and develop great software that drives innovation in their sector.

In fact, businesses large and small are recognising that open source is a sure fire way to meet their digital transformation goals by fast-tracking development and outpacing competition that may be building software from the ground up. 

SMEs can also learn from the collaborative and transparent nature of the open source community. Open source is a community effort, with developers contributing ideas from all over the world.

This very culture that propels innovation in the open source community can also be applied within an organisation. Known as innersourcing, this way of working adopts best practices from open source, empowering teams to build and share reusable code within their organisation’s firewall. By giving developers free rein to be creative, innersourcing invites a culture of knowledge sharing as well as more diverse thoughts and ideas for the organisation.

SMEs should take note as fostering this kind of collaborative culture, transparency and openness is key to remaining competitive and presents a clear path to innovation.

The power of open source has left its mark on numerous industries. By leveraging a global network of developers, there are countless possible projects that our Singapore-based SMEs can create to solve our biggest issues.

Build secure software from the onset 

There are, of course, reasons why Singapore SMEs have not yet made the most of open source. Despite its many benefits, some SMEs hold onto legacy misconceptions around security. Namely – that open source tools are less secure than closed alternatives.

It’s natural to believe that our belongings are best kept safe under lock and key. While some people might think that open source tools are less secure, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Security is perceived as a key benefit for companies using open source, with 87% of respondents from a 2021 Red Hat survey saying it is “more secure” or “as secure” as proprietary software. 

Approaches to application security, such as DevSecOps and shifting security left, have enabled considerable improvements to both traditional and end-to-end security. A shift left approach sees security embedded throughout the entire development process – from the first line of code to final production.

SMEs can therefore leverage the open source community’s collective responsibility for developing and maintaining secure code. More pairs of eyes on these projects means greater scrutiny on the code for possible vulnerabilities. 

A bright future for Singapore’s SMEs

In today’s digital era, speed is everything. Every organisation with a clear market opportunity runs the risk of being disrupted by agile players who can deliver traditional services in new and better ways.

By adopting an open source approach to tech development, Singapore’s SMEs can take full advantage of the opportunity at their fingertips and unlock the fast, secure innovation they need to succeed in today’s digital business environment.