Draft Proposal to build FOSS capability for the NZ government

Background

  1. Shortage of IT skills. What is really meant by this is that  there are shortages of a specific skill at a particular point in time  with public and private businesses being unable or unwilling to carry a  training risk.
  2. Difficult for new entrants to the industry to get experience/skills.  The size of the economy means that smaller public or private businesses  are unable or unwilling to carry a mentoring risk.
  3. Govt agencies appreciating FOSS but not seeing their role as FOSS  support. While FOSS solutions exist within agencies there also needs to  be significant external support as the agencies do not see themselves as  FOSS developers or contributors.  
  4. Significant taxpayer funding being sent offshore rather than growing  onshore capability. Proprietary solutions from overseas companies are  seen as better value and Government contracts favour that rather than  supporting local suppliers.
  5. Broader Outcomes, the Five Principles of Government Procurement and the Government Procurement Charter. These are all designed to allow New Zealand businesses to compete on a level playing field however there are some obstacles to that primarily being driven by the misapplication of the AoG contracts that currently favour a single US multinational and limit the number of NZ businesses that can obtain favourable license terms.  
  6. Alignment with the NZTech Briefing for Incoming Minister (2020) (PDF). Point 9 - Boosting education and skills, Point 11 - Funding and Point 12 Better integration of IT across local and central Government can all be addressed by elements of this proposal.
  7. Alignment with NZRise principles and options discussion paper. Ensuring that New Zealand businesses are evaluated equitably when proposing solutions to Government requirements and that there is support for vocational training and employment of New Zealand citizens.   

Proposal

The proposal to address some of these issues is that work hubs or  clusters be set up with a structure that allows public or private  businesses that use open source technologies to access pools of  developers for specific maintenance and/or upgrade tasks.

For example, ACC and IRD have invested heavily in open source hadoop  technology for data management via a company called MapR. As a result  both agencies have a small team of developers skilled in those  technologies. Unfortunately MapR as a company has ceased to exist and  ACC do not see their role as being a sponsor for these open source  projects even though they have a core team able to maintain and develop  their existing environment under the open source licenses.

If the developers with the open source skills to support ACC and IRD  were employed by a cluster/hub arrangement then both agencies could  continue to receive support for their business operations while  contributing to the local economy rather than overseas corporations.  These developers could then also act as mentors to people coming out of  tertiary education who would also pass through the cluster/hub  arrangement. This gives the industry a pool of new entrants who also  have practical work skills and reduces the risk to other small public or  private organisations.

Agencies could identify and request specific changes to open source  technologies from these pools to support their own initiatives. The  cluster/hub would handle the interface to the open source community and  maintain any git requirements for forking/merging code upstream.  Existing New Zealand open source companies could also take advantage of  these pools to support the creation and setup of new services and/or  ongoing maintenance of existing codebases.

The cluster/hubs could be funded under an apprentice type model with  the understanding that new entrants would be encouraged to see this as a  starting point to gain experience to move into other areas. The work  for the cluster/hub would also be consistent as the primary focus would  be maintain and enhance existing capability leaving the innovation hubs  or other entrepreneurial organisations to develop new services. I.e. the  cluster/hubs would have defined units of work or program increments to  deal with without having to continually develop new ideas.

Specific Projects

Cloud based solutions are popular at present based on the understanding that basic infrastructure services would be cheaper to obtain based on bulk suppliers. One consideration that all agencies are required to address is the storage of and access to personal data of New Zealand citizens. With overseas based cloud solutions ultimate control of this is lost given the layout of the telecommunications cable structure into and out of New Zealand. In addition to that New Zealand has no jurisdictional oversight of the companies involved in these services and is therefore unable to apply any remedies in the case of malicious or unintentional exposure of that data.  

This proposal would allow the development and support of solutions such as NextCloud to provide browser based document creation, maintenance and intra/inter departmental exchange. This reduces the cost of the local hardware to access those resources as well as reducing the taxpayer burden of licensing options.

Telephony - Asterisk/linphone?

Videoconf - BBB (Jitsi as a softphone?)

IAM - Keycloak?

Data lake - hadoop etc.

email - postfix(?) needs a webby front end.