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Public Sector Warms to Open Source

Public Sector Warms to Open Source

Australia is at the front of the trend in public sector and government adoption of mature open-source products

Public sector and government organizations around the world are adopting increasingly mature open-source products, with Australia at the front of the trend.

And while Gartner recently warned governments of all stripes about the need for a greater focus on establishing OSS policies, the Australian government is confident it has the matter well in hand.

AGIMO says understanding cost of ownership issues for open source software is important because, under an open source model, costs are incurred at different phases of the implementation

A recent Gartner survey found what it called "a remarkable lack of maturity" in establishing OSS policies in public-sector organizations. It warned while most clients had significant deployments of open source, there was a dearth of formal and comprehensive policies covering aspects such as inventory, procurement, vendor assessment and selection, OSS license risk assessment and management, liability limitation, and participation in OSS communities.

But the Australia Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) is confident its April 2005 Guide to Open Source Software for Australian Government Agencies is the exception, delivering the full gamut of information and approaches for agencies to consider when assessing open source solutions.

"According to some folks from the UK, the Australian AGIMO guidance on open source — available on the AGIMO Web site — is regarded as the gold standard," a spokesman for Special Minister of State Gary Nairn says.

The guide addresses risk management procedures and the different contractual considerations that can apply to open source software issues, as well as cost of ownership issues.

AGIMO says understanding cost of ownership issues for open source software is important because, under an open source model, costs are incurred at different phases of the implementation and operation of an information technology system.

The spokesman says the government recently completed a survey of Open Source use in agencies asking respondents if they had piloted or used free and open source software in their organization. It found 68 percent of technical respondents were already using free and open source software in their organizations.

This conforms to recent Gartner research finding OSS is regularly used across the public sector at the lower levels of the stack, although there is so far very little — if any — use at the application level. Gartner analyst Andrea Di Maio predicts open-source applications and CRM solutions will be the fastest growth areas for 2007 in terms of potential deployments.

"This demonstrates the increased maturity of public-sector clients about where they can reap the most benefits from open source," Di Maio says.

Gartner says while OSS products can provide lower-cost alternatives to traditional proprietary products under the right conditions, most of the software development and maintenance costs are incurred in applications. This is an area in which most public-sector organizations still rely on legacy, custom-made development, or on enterprise or domain-specific packages, in which the risk of vendor lock-in is as high as in the more traditional areas of servers or desktop operating systems.

It says government agencies are starting to experiment with and deploy open-source products in areas that are the traditional realm of enterprise package vendors, such as CRM. It says open-source solutions can offer a valid alternative for enterprise and domain-specific applications, especially when speed of execution is a driving concern. However, relying on an unsupported open-source version requires significant internal skills, which may require a steep learning curve on the part of the internal IT organization.

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