Welcome to our series of interviews with the people behind the OpenChain Project. While open source is mostly about software, and governance is mostly about licenses, it is also the story of thousands of individuals collaborating. We hope these interviews will inform and inspire our readers, and encourage more people to participate in open source and OpenChain.

Our thirteenth interview is with Marcel Scholze from PwC

You have been involved with technology and compliance for a while and now have a leadership position in Open Source. Can you tell us a little about how you joined your company, in which way you are involved in technology , and how you first discovered Open Source?

First of all, thank you for this interview and thanks for all the great stuff OpenChain is doing and is up to. I am happy to partner with OpenChain and to contribute!

Back to the question: I started over my IT career 25 years ago during school and college times, as I was completely fond of computers, programming and IT services – I further developed my expertise at university by studying Computer Science and after my Diploma I started with PwC in 2007. Within our IT Sourcing practice, I professionally continued my early passion for IT and Open Source as a global delivery and collaboration model for IT solutions.

By now I am Head of Open Source Software Management and Compliance Services – which includes all our OSS services from strategy through execution to help our clients to better use, embrace, and manage OSS.

Open Source is a major aspect for shared and collaborative transformation of IT infrastructures and applications. With our global network of Consulting, Audit, Compliance and Legal Experts we provide professional services to a large scale of clients, with “Building Trust in Open Source” being one of them.

Your involvement in open source is very deep. Software is behind most of our technology and Open Source is behind most of our software. However, in relative terms there are few coordinators, managers or lawyers with significant experience of this approach to technology. How do you approach and support decisions for companies and organizations looking to adopt, or expand, their use of Open Source?

I believe the global use and expertise in Open Source have skyrocketed over the last years. While it is true that there are relatively few coordinators with decades of experience in Open Source it is unlikely to stay this way. The internet’s rise, IoT, digitalization, you name it, puts us at a turning point in technological history where concepts for global collaboration, participation and customization impact every aspect of the supply chain.

Every consideration on usage or expansion of Open Source is a unique endeavor as the client’s situation is rarely the same. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, it’s all about listening to our clients and understanding their reasons and hopes, their challenges and benefits as well as their strategic considerations and legal boundaries. If these topics cannot be answered yet we help our clients to find their way and take informed and right decisions. Open Source needs to be understood in the context of zeitgeist, mindset and transparency.

OpenChain is all about Open Source compliance in the supply chain. Our industry standard builds trust and our reference material helps companies build processes to meet the standard. Approaching this discussion for the first time can be a little intimidating. Most people are modest about their understanding of licenses or choosing the “best” approach to solve a business challenge. It may be a strong word to use, but often a certain sense of fear makes people hesitate. How did you learn to approach this issue with a positive and open mind?

Open Source is a decentralized ecosystem with very few constants and global constraints. A certain respect of what is by nature uncontrollable shouldn’t be confused with fear as many are lacking the tools to address these new challenges.

In the market I can see transitions from “no fear” as they do not know about OSS risks, to “fear” as they know the risks but do not have sufficient measurements to reduce them, to “respect / in control” after a successful implementation of an OSS management system. Whichever stage our client is in, we are happy to support the journey and endeavor to a mature and sound OSS management and risk mitigation system.

One thing the OpenChain Project is concerned with is diversity. Our project is developing a long-term industry standard and our strategic perspective is measured in many years or even decades. To access the potential in our community we need to make sure gender or personal choices never make people feel unwelcome or excluded. In some markets like China and Korea around half of the people we work with are female. In other markets, such as Japan and the United States, the percentage of women is far less. Have you faced challenges because of gender and how did you overcome them?

Embracing diversity is in our DNA at PwC and something we foster in our projects and cooperation with clients. I truly believe that diversity allows us to produce the highest quality outcomes. It is a constant virtue of collaboration that needs to be rooted in every participants’ mindset. A solid approach to solve possibly existing issues is to be the change we want to see and step up for doing the right thing.

The next question is directly related to the last one. Because the OpenChain Project is concerned with diversity we must acknowledge that every part of our project needs to continually improve. Our social structures, our meeting formats, our processes to create or improve material. Everything needs to be considered to find any challenge to making people welcome and empowered. Can you assist us in this process with some suggestions for improvement?

International relationships and efficient collaboration across borders are complex tasks. Addressing the resulting challenges is important for every multinational organization. For us at PwC, working together and embracing diversity is a core value driving our success.

Looking at OpenChain, I think a lot is being done right. From local working groups to translated feedback for the English consensus. I do not think there is an issue that needs to be addressed right now, however every now and then a session on Diversity and Inclusion and what it means for us within OpenChain might be a good reminder for everyone. Also, sessions on neutral language within everyone’s communication (expressions like “Hey guys vs. Hello everyone” or “Blacklist/Whitelist vs. Allowed/Denied list”) might be a good addition to OpenChain inclusion efforts.

All around the world age is a topic. Our populations are getting older and the social distance between young and old people seems to be growing. People in their early twenties seem to have very little in common with people in their forties or fifties. Of course, this is understandable and of course it has always existed between generations. However, in the context of Open Source, our population is aging too, with the average age of participants around 30~55. Maybe we have more older people than young people. Do you have any suggestions for how we can make young people interested and welcome in projects like OpenChain?

Short answer to this one: I think, Open Source itself does not have an age issue. Having said this, OpenChain is focusing on the compliance of Open Source within organizations, which deems to be a topic more relevant for people with some more working experience. With OpenChain helping to reduce risks related to Open Source, it ultimately empowers and enables Open Source usage and contribution in corporate environments, which in the end is beneficial for young, old, for everyone.

There is a big difference between tactical activities that solve day-to-day problems and strategic activities that solve bigger challenges. OpenChain is basically focused on strategy. This means our participants think about the future and it means we also have to think about how many tactical actions can serve a strategic mission. People often ask how to do this and they often mention that it is hard to think strategically when many business metrics are based on quarterly activities. Do you have any suggestions based on your own experience?

Strategic thinking is art and science combined hence requires communication and various sources of inspiration just as much as the exact understanding of the matter. This is the essence of what professional consulting like PwC can offer and support. Thinking out of the day-to-day box for yourself requires a lot of energy hence my recommendation to achieve a strategic mindset is regular review and exchange with peers outside of your daily context. Communities like OpenChain tend to be a great place to find these contacts.

We have asked many serious questions in this interview. Each of your answers is extremely valuable for our current and our future community. OpenChain is all about sharing knowledge and helping everyone do better. However, we are not only a dry, factual community. We also have many positive social relationships and there is a hope or a goal that OpenChain can be fun too. We are all together collaborating to solve interesting challenges. Do you have any tips for how people can come into a project like OpenChain and find the experience rewarding personally as well as in a business sense?

Being involved in compliance projects means to focus on avoiding risks – this of course does not sound like fun, does it? However, I think it is all about positive collaboration, interaction, inclusion and the human connections made along the way, which can be very rewarding. From a business sense the most rewarding aspect of a long-term project like OpenChain is if it provides you with new perspectives, ideas, solutions and if it progresses even further through everyone’s input.

Finally, you have been so kind to answer these questions in English and German. However, the future of open source and OpenChain is not in English, but instead in communication from Mandarin to Hindi to German. The future is making sure people in each nation can work together freely. We already hold the local work group meetings in the local language but is there a way we can reduce language barriers even more?

We’ve seen more and less successful implementations of multinational projects and businesses over the years. OpenChain belongs to the more successful ones, with its main communication in English while providing materials and local working groups in local languages. I think this works out very well and I have not experienced any complaints so far. However, once a local working group is established and producing its own results in local language, it is important to upstream to the global OpenChain community to not end up in disjoint forks of the project. Anyway, I positively look into the future and how AI technology will at some point enable simultaneous multilanguage translations – empowered through Open Source frameworks.

Thank you Marcel for your time and thoughts!