Veterans Department Still Open to Open Source

Veterans Department Still Open to Open Source

The Commonwealth Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) hasn't given up on open source despite deciding last year to stick with Microsoft for now.

CIO Bob Hay says while DVA chose to hold off on any transition, open source is still an option down the track.

DVA last year sought Expressions of Interest (EOI) from providers of open source office personal productivity suites with a view to replace its Microsoft Office Suite in the DVA desktop environment for 3000 personal. It chose instead to upgrade its ageing Microsoft Office 97 software suite to Office 2003, eschewing a tender that included OpenOffice from open source software specialist Single Point. But Hay says the decision should not be seen as a demonstration of lack of interest.

"While we didn't discount the use of open source, we recognized there would be a fair bit of effort for us to put it in our environment," Hay says. "And we thought that it would be a high risk strategy to do that. So we decided that to minimize disruption and to minimize risk, we'd continue with Microsoft."

He says DVA will keep exploring the possibility of using open source, in the spirit of keeping all options open.

The EOI sought information from vendors on "specifically an open source office personal productivity suite that could replace its Microsoft Office Suite in the Desktop environment".

It said the open source software must work in "an enterprise distributed environment with up to 3000 users spread across offices located in Canberra, the six states and a number of regional centres throughout Australia".

It also asked vendors for cost projections, particularly "likely costs associated with such an enterprise-wide change".

But Hay says with a number of major initiatives currently underway, he ultimately decided DVA had "enough on its plate" without throwing in the added complication and risks involved in a transition to a new desktop environment. These include implementation of an integrated and client-focussed information technology application framework, known as Curam, as part of a wide-ranging technology revamp.

And earlier this year DVA announced a revised ICT plan to accommodate a cut in funding precipitated by the declining numbers of Australian veterans. It also issued a request for tender noting ICT would be "a key enabler in introducing more cost-efficient and cost-effective ways of conducting business and delivering services".

ICT must support the DVA's new business architecture "through a corresponding systems architecture". The DVA is also planning to modernize ICT systems and architecture and introduce an integrated application framework to bring DVA service delivery applications together in a consolidated delivery platform.

Hay says all this was enough to keep the agency busy for some time.

"Even upgrading from what we had before - Office 97 to 2003 - was an exercise in its own right," Hay says.

"We got good support from the industry in response to our request for information. There was a lot of good potential there and there was a lot of co-operation by the industry in working with these issues."

He says a transition to open source remains on DVA's agenda, but it would have to fit in with the department's forward work program.

"It's still on our agenda, it still has potential, but I guess the other side of it is that we need to have a better assessment of the impact it would have. The Office suite integrates with the number of our applications. We would have to work through the issues of reconfiguring and in certain cases reworking applications to use whatever alternative we took. It's a matter of doing a more detailed investigation and analysis before we then determine the question of whether we want to make that transition.

"We will consider this over the next three years."

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