All Change Please (situation normal)

Today I would like to make it public that I am no longer the manager of OSS Watch. However, I’m pleased to say I won’t be going too far, more on that later.

It gives me great pleasure that one of my own hires, Sander van der Waal, has agreed to be my successor. Sander has been a key part of the team for some time and is well equipped to take over from me as manager. I have no doubt that Sander will continue to deliver, through the brilliant OSS Watch team, an advisory service designed to ensure our sector benefits from, and contributes to, open source.

Before explaining what I’ll be doing next I want to explain why I’m leaving.

Difficult Times

The academic sector is changing. It’s changing in fundamentally important ways. Most importantly, for OSS Watch, the funding models for services like ours is changing. For some time I, as manager, have been seeking to ensure all staff within the OSS Watch team have a level of job security that our current funding model is unable to provide as we move forwards.

As background consider that OSS Watch staff, including myself, have been on rolling three month contracts for nearly a year. Naturally, under these circumstances it has been very difficult to provide a valuable service to the sector. I’m extremely proud of the OSS Watch team and what we have achieved under these circumstances.

I’m not interested in complaining about the lack of security for our staff. The reality is that the economic and political environment of the last couple of years is the root cause of these difficulties and it’s pointless to suggest that the problems could/should have been avoided. The fact is OSS Watch is a minuscule part of this whole sector and nobody is to blame for how things have affected us. In fact, rather than complain I would rather state, loud and clear, I have nothing but praise for those with a direct influence on our work.

The JISC, through our programme director Matthew Dovey, have done everything in their power to ensure OSS Watch remains viable. Similarly our host, Oxford Universities Computing Services, have been faultless in their handling of staff contracts. There were a number of times that OUCS could have legitimately cancelled our employment contracts, but this was never seriously considered. On behalf of the OSS Watch team I want to thank the JISC and OUCS for taking responsibility and not sweeping important services like OSS Watch under the carpet.

Similarly, I want to thank the OSS Watch team. Despite extremely difficult circumstances the team have stuck by me and my plans for the future of OSS Watch. This is a testament to both the value they place in OUCS as an employer and to their commitment and contributions to open source advice in the academic sector.

So, if I am so happy with our funders, employers and team why am I leaving?

An OSS Watch Spin-Out

During the last year I and the team have been working to secure additional funding streams for OSS Watch. We’ve had plenty of success in attracting funding for specific support activities in key projects, this has enabled us to significantly reduce our demands on the JISC. In addition, I’ve had success in generating interest in an OSS Watch like service for the private sector.

As a result of this interest from the private sector I’m leaving OSS Watch in order to start a new company, OpenDirective, with Steve Lee as a partner. Our goal is to connect the smart folk in the UK research domain to the people who can take their software developments to market.

Both Steve and I will remain engaged with the OSS Watch team to ensure our services are complementary.  Through our collaboration we will seek to identify opportunities for technology transfer and, in so doing, generate alternative streams of revenue for open source activities within the academic sector.

What Does This Mean to You?

First and foremost, OSS Watch continues to provide free, at the point of use, advisory services to the UK Higher and Further Education Sector. OSS Watch remains fully independent of commercial interests and as such continues to provide unbiased, non-advocacy advice. However, these services will remain advisory only. That is OSS Watch will not tell you the best course of action, nor will they actively engage with the implementation of your chosen route. OSS Watch seek to enable you to choose and act upon the right option.

OpenDirective, on the other hand, are able to provide more proactive and engaged services. We won’t just advise you of your options, we’ll be willing to tell you what you should do. We’ll even help you do it. Naturally we’ll explain our reasoning, but we’ll be spending more time on making your project succeed than deliberating over all possible alternative actions. OpenDirective will not be free at the point of use, but our contracts are performance based, that is we’re happy to put our time and money where our mouths are.

Interestingly, one of OpenDirectives first clients is OSS Watch. For the foreseeable future, Steve and I will remain a part of the OSS Watch project support team. So, if you are part of a project that has Steve or I are assigned to then things will not change a great deal for you. At the same time, a couple of our initial contracts are injecting funding and community development work back into OSS Watch projects.

Taken together we believe that the combination of OSS Watch and OpenDirective give you a new range of options that should enable you to reach your goal state in the most appropriate way possible for your unique position.

9 thoughts on “All Change Please (situation normal)

  1. As a member of the team involved in the JISC REALISE project can I wish you all the best and really hope OpenDirective goes well and OSSWatch continue to be able to support Open source Assistive Technology work like ours. Many thanks Ross and best wishes to you and Steve with your new plans.

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