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Open source…the way forward for government

We’re big believers of open source and all the benefits it delivers to both the private and public sectors. Here’s what’s going on in Australia with open source, and our views on the state of play.

Alfred D 26 October 2016

Federal Government

In 2011 the Federal Government released its policy directing agencies to “consider open source software for all software procurements.” While the language may sound open itself (!) there’s no denying that the Federal Government is committed to open source. govCMS is a great example of ‘walking the walk’ and putting policy into action.

The Federal Government’s Open Source Policy is broken into three driving principles:

  • “Principle 1: Australian Government ICT procurement processes must actively and fairly consider all types of available software.” During procurement, Australian Government agencies must look at both proprietary and open source software solutions.The key driver here is value for money.

  • “Principle 2: Suppliers must consider all types of available software when dealing with Australian Government agencies.” Suppliers must consider both proprietary and open source software and Federal Government agencies must stipulate this in their tender documents.

  • “Principle 3: Australian Government agencies will actively participate in open source software communities and contribute back where appropriate.” Australian agencies will keep up with global best practice in open source software and will actively participate in open source communities.

We’ve been open source converts for a while, so it was great to see this reflected in national policy. Some of the key benefits are:

  • Reduced costs

  • Streamlined IT builds

  • Reduced risks (code has already been tested and used)

  • Collaboration and knowledge sharing

It also supports the broader directives in many state ICT strategies of ‘whole-of-government’ solutions.

We also like the sense of community in the open source arena. For us, we’re part of the Drupal and govCMS communities, putting back in modules and sharing our key learnings. By using open source, government agencies (at all levels) also form their own community. It’s an integral part of open source, and inter-related to knowledge sharing and collaboration. And if that sounds a bit warm and fuzzy to you, remember the benefits are cold hard facts.

Digital Transformation Agency (DTA)

The DTA (formerly the DTO) is also involved in the open source movement. As part of its Digital Service Standard, the DTA has a section on code sharing. The overriding directive is to “make source code open and reusable where appropriate”. Again, a value-adding and cost-saving policy in our opinion.

We’re also fans of GovShare, a tool that facilitates sharing — its ICT artefacts section gives government employees access to XML models and code. If you haven’t already done so, we suggest you sign up.

So what are the states doing?

VIC: Given we’re based in Melbourne, we have an added interest in what Victoria’s doing :) and we were surprised earlier this year when the Victorian Government’s ICT Strategy (2016-2020) was released with no mention of open source. The strategy does talk about “shared technology services” and a “whole-of-government” approach and one of its objectives is to review the procurement process, yet it seems the overall strategy is not promoting open source software the way the Federal Government and DTA are. It will be interesting to see how things progress with the ICT strategy, and whether open source policy is addressed in the procurement recommendations once they’re released.

NSW/QLD/SA/TAS/NT: When we started looking at what other states were doing, a pattern emerged. The NSW Government ICT Strategy (2012), the Queensland Government ICT Strategy (2013-17), the South Australian ICT Strategy (2016) and the Tasmanian Government ICT Strategy (2011) all talked about open data and sharing applications (collaboration) but open source was decidedly absent. And in NT, while the Digital Policy Unit has specific strategies/policies, we couldn’t find an overarching ICT policy and nothing on open source.

Mmm…and then came WA.

WA: Yay for WA! Digital WA: Western Australian Government ICT Strategy (2016-2020) is one of only two state ICT strategies that make mention (and recommend) open source. In its Roadmaps section the strategy says: “Government procurement will be streamlined…and sourcing options broadened to facilitate crowd sourcing, open source solutions, and buying from start-ups and other small to medium enterprises (SMEs).” We humbly approve.

ACT: The ACT’s The Strategic Plan for ICT (2011-2015) also mentions open source, saying they would: “…continue to promote a value for money approach to ICT procurement where cost will be measured as total cost of ownership and Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) solutions will be actively considered alongside proprietary solutions.”

Salsa Digital and open source

I think you’ve realised by now that we’re extremely pro open source here at Salsa Digital. As I said in a blog earlier this year…in the beginning there was open source. For us, open source played a huge part in the way we shaped our business. And we’re as committed and excited by open source today as we were back then (roughly 13 years ago). The benefits I mentioned above are simply too powerful.

Should all the states have an open source policy?

The simple answer is, yes! It surprises us that so many state governments haven’t adopted an open source policy. Thinking about here in Victoria, while some Victorian agencies are taking up open source, be it Drupal or govCMS (for example Victoria’s first govCMS site, which we developed), open source doesn’t have the same policy importance at the state level as it does at the federal level. And we’re not sure why. Of course, there’s no documentation recommending against open source, but there’s also no official policy, no official statements that it should be considered. Open source just makes sense, and we believe the states should mirror the Federal Policy.

At Salsa Digital we will continue to promote the benefits of open source, because we truly believe it’s the way to go…for the private sector and the public sector. The Federal Government (and WA and ACT) are onto something here and we hope all the state ICT policies will soon reflect this approach.

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