“Ten years ago, Open Source — notably Linux — was often labelled a ‘fad’ or destined for the ‘hobbyist’ market,” said Mark Bohannon, Vice President for Corporate Affairs & Global Public Policy at Red Hat.
“Fast forward to today. Owing not only to the benefits of the technology, but also to the benefits of the collaborative innovation model, Open Source software has by any measure become mainstream and vital to enterprise and government IT architecture.”
In the Public Sector,Bohannon notes that most governments now are more likely to engage on how open source can help them achieve the innovation they need to be able to serve their citizens today and in the years to come.
“They are increasingly more interested in becoming participants in the open source community, as opposed to simply being purchasers,” he said, adding that this strong global trend allows governments to explore the potential of using Open Source software solutions for a wide variety of infrastructure, platform and application needs.
While government procurement regimes often lag behind those in the commercial sector in terms of adaptability and efficiency,Bohannon explains that there is a growing awareness among procurement specialists of the public sector that the old way of acquiring software has to change and that lock-in is no longer acceptable.
More significantly, the use of technology, including Open Source software, is moving out of the sphere of simply ‘acquiring a product’ to ‘investing in innovation.’
“The take-up of Open Source is increasingly a corollary to the shift of focus where IT is less about inventing intellectual property and selling or licensing it, and more about widely distributing intellectual property and adding value on top of it,” he said.
According to Bohannon, this paradigm shift allowed decision-makers to go from thinking of small ‘procurement’ windows to viewing open source from a broader vantage point that highlights its broad-based benefits to an economy, jobs and innovation and in the government itself.
“One of the most exciting things I’m seeing is governments using Open Source software, as a key component of ‘digital agenda’ initiatives that include open standards and open data policies, to enhance civic engagement,” he said.
“Whether through sponsoring ‘app challenges’ and ‘hackathons’ to generate excitement around new ways of using government services and information, to modernising online web-based services, and governments actually ‘open sourcing’ the software, there is strong evidence that Open Source is indeed driving transparency and better engagement with citizens.”
One example is the work of the U.S. White House to connect citizens (and citizen developers) to government (and government data). The US “Digital Agenda” is carrying out the President’s goal of using technology to make a real difference in individuals’ daily lives. Notably, in carrying out its effort, the White House is committed to “using and contributing back to open source software as a way of making it easier for the government to share data, improve tools and services, and return value to taxpayers.”
Another example is found in Chile, where its “Gobierno Abierto” (Government Portal) initiative is leveraging Open Source software and open data to engage citizens. In addition, the ChileAtiende (Citizen Service), a portal that seeks to bring a wide range of public benefits and services directly to all citizens is also run on Open Source software.
“In addition, since Open Source solutions involve subscriptions as opposed to maintenance fees or licenses found in proprietary solutions, this results in lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).”
Bohannon notes this is consistent with the growing move toward commodity hardware and emphasis on open standards for software interoperability.
“The State of Melaka, Malaysia for example, estimates the open-source revamp of their IT infrastructure only cost thirty per cent of what they would have spent on a comparable proprietary system.”
“Yet, it is not just cost savings that governments are citing as the unique advantages of open source software,” he notes.
Open Source software allows governments to effectively implement policies of IT reuse, modularity, and avoiding vendor lock-in. It also enables rapid deployment and adjustment as mission needs shift in today’s fast-changing times.
“I frequently hear government CIOs fixing problems in just a few days, or even hours, using Open Source software – fixes that would have taken weeks or months with proprietary or custom built software. With Open Source software, public agencies are able to achieve their goal of maximising taxpayer investment, especially in their IT infrastructure.”
“The Open Source value is increasingly about how to reposition IT infrastructure to be more agile and responsive to changes in mission focus of public agencies and the growing demand by citizens to access services and benefits anytime, anywhere,” he concluded.
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