Time to rethink public sector technology
Wellington, 29 April 2009
New Zealand Open Source Society is calling for far greater use of free software in the New Zealand public sector. The renewed call comes at a time when central government agencies have been conducting line-by-line reviews of their expenditure and the UK government has released sweeping policy changes to put open source on an even footing with proprietary software.
“The crucial insight from the UK policy is that cost of ownership is not the issue; what matters is value delivered.” says NZOSS president Don Christie “With free software that value can be delivered across multiple agencies through re-use.”
Christie is disappointed that agencies continue to seek marginal cost savings through the G2009 whole of government agreement with Microsoft when there are completely viable free software workstation solutions.
“The Electoral Enrolment Centre has been using free software on over a hundred desktops for the last seven years with no external support and they produce one of the most complete and accurate Electoral Rolls in the world.”
“It is time for agencies to justify the need for Microsoft workstations. What kind of public administration can't be done with free software, I would really like to know?”
The public sector is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the freedoms granted through permissive licensing that encourages reuse and sharing. Yet the recent State Services survey of ICT use in government found more than three-quarters of agencies weren't confident they knew what other agencies are doing when they procure ICT.
“There doesn't appear to be a culture in the public sector that will see real value being delivered through free software reuse and collaboration. That has to change.”
Christie points to the requirement for agencies to publish rolling annual procurement plans on the GETS website – information that would allow agencies to know what each other is doing. Few agencies appear to do this.
“It took a small company like 3months.com to bring together agencies' technical and business folk using the open source Plone content management system for the first time. Agencies should be protecting taxpayer investment in systems like this by forming their own communities of practice, building knowledge and sustainable capability, and aggregating demand for the kind of technical support they really need.”
Christie believes technical capability within government agencies has been severely weakened by years of dependency on external support contracts and a single technology stack.
“It's not healthy for the public sector and it is not healthy for the local ICT industry.”
With nearly 80% of the government's annual $2 billion ICT budget being spent on just standing still and hundreds of millions being siphoned out of the local economy through license and upgrade fees Christie says it is little wonder the public sector hasn't delivered on the promises of the e-government strategy.
The New Zealand Open Source Society is planning to hold a seminar bringing together government ICT decision-makers, procurement specialists and leaders from the ICT industry and open source community.
“There are too many potential opportunities for New Zealand being missed. We need to re-examine why free software is not being picked up in a major way across the public sector.”
“It is time to get some of the fundamentals right and regain the lead we have lost.”
For more information contact Don Christie on 027 470 7814