At a time when budgets are tight and consumers are demanding more of their governments than ever, state and local governments in particular are casting an increasingly favourable eye over open source software.
US Government marketing intelligence company INPUT says it expects US state and local government agencies to take the public sector market lead in adopting open source software (OSS) solutions.
And in the UK a survey conducted by the Society of IT Management (Socitm) has shown local authorities are also keen to expand their use of open source software.
Socitm finds 60 percent of British councils think use of open source will increase, while 35 percent expect it to stay the same. Just over half are currently using open source products for one or more of either desktop, infrastructure or applications IT.
Meanwhile INPUT says limited IT budgets and high traditional software costs are making open source software extremely attractive to state and local government agencies. It finds continued constraints on information technology budgets, unsustainable hardware and software licensing costs, and the need to manage operations more aggressively than the federal government, is driving the success of government OSS efforts.
The US government has been encouraging agencies to consider open source through software-procurement guidelines and such executive mandates as the eGovernment Act, but INPUT says it is local and state governments that will more aggressively push adoption in the long run, and that will seek the help of VARs to supply the skills needed to optimize the strategy.
"If open-source software is really going to take the next major step forward, it's the government that will push it," says James Krouse, state and local market analysis manager at Input. "And state and local governments are proving more outspoken than the federal government, as they often are in more risky, cutting-edge technologies."
The reports find it is not just a need to find cost savings that is pushing governments into adoption of open source software. The need for governments to comprehensively manage their own systems with permanent and seamless operations that ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and unobstructed accessibility to public information and data is an equally powerful motivation.
And INPUT notes acceptance of government open source systems is also gaining momentum based on some recent industry developments. In June 2004, the "Government Open Code Collaborative" was created, making it the first cross-government jurisdictional venture, including more than ten state and local agencies and offices. In partial response, Microsoft initiated a number of programs that provided government entities with access to Microsoft Windows source code where necessary.
Widespread adoption of open source software should reduce overall state and local software spending because the software is less expensive than proprietary solutions. In addition, the bulk of OSS costs are in support services, which would classify the expenditures under professional services rather than software.
"As OSS is embraced by governments, we should see significant opportunities for service contractors that specialize in writing this code," Krouse says. "State and local agencies will continue in an active review process for the next one to two years, but vendors should expect to see considerable bids or group bids surface in the long term."
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