Local Government Urged to Consider Open Source

Local Government Urged to Consider Open Source

The Shire of Busselton’s senior IT officer says open source software offers many opportunities for councils suffering budgetary constraints

OSS avoids vendor lock in and is usually quite innovative

— Paul Hamilton, senior IT officer, The Shire of Busselton

The senior IT officer from a West Australian shire says open source software can provide a way forward for councils suffering budgetary constraints.

The Shire of Busselton's senior IT officer, Paul Hamilton, says Busselton, located in the Cape to Cape sub-region of southwest Western Australia, has been using OSS for a number of purposes over the last few years.

He says FreeBSD server software has allowed Council to create an all-in-one package, incorporating a secure firewall, Web server, antivirus spam filtering mail server and a backup server. It also comes with over 17,000 installable applications, with no financial outlay for the software itself.

And Hamilton told Focus, the magazine for Australia's National Local Government Association, that the shire has also used OSS to develop its Web site and intranets using the Web-based Drupal Content Management System (CMS).

He says Drupal offers more than 1000 modules to work from and has Australian consultants available for those needing help.

"Over 200 developers have contributed to the Drupal package and so much information is available, that if you had to commercially write the program, it would cost over $25 million," he said.

Busselton is also using OSS for its help desk application. Paul Hamilton said Council previously used Outlook Public folders, but found it hard to gather statistics on what problems were being addressed.

"I spent some time looking and trialling a lot of free and commercial help desk software packages before settling on 'One or Zero'," he said. "With One or Zero, users can use their normal network usernames and passwords, and they can also check the status of their submissions. The program also comes with a suite of reports and graphs, so we have great records of what we are doing."

While it has no figures on Australian local government use of open source, Gartner conducted a survey of a sample of government agencies in North America and Europe in the autumn of 2007 which found open-source software (OSS) is progressing in both regions and at all tiers of government, and that it is making inroads in the higher levels of the technology stack. And in contrast to commonly held perceptions, it found North America had greater penetration and adoption maturity than Europe, and OSS is not limited to state and local agencies. It also found the emergence of collaborative communities suggests that open source and community source will have considerable influence in government legacy modernization.

The report found

  • OSS is reaching significant penetration well beyond IT infrastructure. The areas range from database management systems (DBMSs) to business applications.

  • Drivers of OSS adoption, although differing slightly by region and government tier, are mostly related to the desire to contain costs and overcome procurement complexity. However, there is now greater understanding that vendor independence cannot be easily achieved.

  • Collaborative development efforts between agencies that use an open-source development process (also known as "community source") are growing faster than expected.

And it recommended CIOs develop an enterprise open-source policy as a matter of urgency that ensures OSS can be considered at any possible level of the stack, and that the selection process takes into account its total cost of ownership (TCO).

It also urged organizations to consider the use of OSS as a way to accelerate the procurement process, and to actively identify cases in which the replacement of legacy systems, as well as new developments, may be approached — either partially or completely — by partnering with a community of peer agencies.

Hamilton says the attraction of OSS is not just that it is free, but that it offers a more reliable and secure server or services than is available in the commercial world.

"OSS avoids vendor lock in and is usually quite innovative," he said. "I like to have the source code so I can adapt programs to different circumstances. While I am not a programmer, sometimes I have made small changes to the code, to elicit changes to suit my needs. I can't do that with a proprietary binary program or Windows-based DLL."

And he urged councils to consider the Open Document Format (ODF), a file format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents, as another money-saving tool.

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