Many governments and defence departments around the world have recently announced initiatives aimed at driving the adoption of open source (OS) across the information technology infrastructure.
In January, Jordan became the first to sign an official memorandum of understanding announcing its intention to work with an open source company. And in the United Kingdom, the government beefed up its OS policy by calling for positive actions toward the adoption of the technology. The policy not only covers open source, but also details the adoption of open standards and the re-usability of software across government IT systems. The policy states 10 objectives and details 10 key actions to be taken throughout the government by CIOs and purchasing officers.
Governments in North America have taken similar steps. The United States, for instance, recently formed Open Source for America (OSA), a group of more than 7,000 information technology directors and academic organizations, to promote the adoption of open source software by the federal government. OSA aims to change policies and practices to help the government better use open source, coordinate communities for deeper internal collaboration on technology requirements, and raise overall awareness and understanding among government leaders about the big picture values and implications of OS software.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government is taking a big lead in the use of open source. In 2009, it issued an official Request for Information on OS software to gather feedback and public guidance to help shape procurement policies. The move is seen as a prelude to broader adoption of free and open source software in the government’s IT infrastructure.
Public sector organizations all have one thing in common: they answer to taxpayers and constituents. With that in mind, government agencies are always looking for the best way to quickly deliver IT-enabled services to citizens while driving down the cost of doing so. They want a flexible subscription model so that if budgets and services are cut back, their costs go down as well. These are just two reasons why more and more public sector agencies are turning to OS and reconsidering big cutbacks on incredibly expensive “big software” license purchases.
A recent article in The Economist describes the transformations being achieved through e-government. Providing government services online can increase efficiency and improve citizen access to those services. Today, open source is fully acknowledged as a commercially viable technology that allows systems to be built without expensive up front investments in license fees and without compromising on critical needs for privacy, security and reliability. Public sector customers, for instance, are running a broad spectrum of mission critical applications including online tax and customs systems that process billions of dollars every year.
Government agencies have a special responsibility to promote competition through a procurement process that uses open standards. Savvy government IT procurement officers are challenging their legacy vendors to compete with OS software providers who drive down agency costs by eliminating license fees and reducing hardware and support costs. They are researching a wide variety of OS solutions to offer their users a viable alternative to legacy vendors. With open source, public sector agencies can build a robust and reliable IT infrastructure and numerous applications at lower costs than if they chose big software solutions.
The database market
Like big business, government organizations are facing information and data growth like never before. All this data must be continuously tracked, managed and protected properly for the success of various agencies. To do this effectively, organizations turn to databases. Analysts predict that the worldwide relational database management systems market will continue high growth rates through 2010 as data management and integration become more strategically important in organizations across all industries.
Open source databases have matured to the point where they’re no longer solely used by hobbyists, but also by big business, governments and academic institutions. OS databases have proven themselves in large scale and critical-data environments such as Lufthansa Airlines and Google, along with government environments such as the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group in the U.S., and the Quebec Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food (MAPAQ) in Canada.
These databases provide the same level of performance, scalability, security and usability as their prohibitively expensive closed source counterparts. Open source software is less expensive to deploy as it has no license fees associated with it, but users can purchase 24/7 support subscriptions if they choose.
Managing inspections through OS
In 2008, MAPAQ, a Quebec government organization responsible for food safety, turned to Ingres’s open source database to ensure that agents are conducting inspections at the right time and in the right order for the most efficient business performance. The organization is constantly on the lookout for unsanitary conditions, spoiled goods, and inadequate food handling and inspectors have a lot of ground to cover.
As Canada’s largest province, Quebec encompasses almost 600,000 square miles of land and lakes. On any given day, hundreds of inspectors are on the ground, visiting restaurants and grocery stores to ensure that food safety is on par with instituted guidelines – a critical process that keeps citizens healthy and safe. The OS database is used to optimize the inspectors’ agenda. It uses a complex algorithm to determine the best way to organize inspection activities for optimal performance by its inspectors. The agency has also built applications on the OS database to determine which facilities are due for inspection, or re-inspection, and also figures out the optimal order in which inspections should occur.
“Quebec is a huge province, and MAPAQ needed an effective way to make sure it oversees food safety correctly. We turned to open source technology because we know it is extremely reliable and cost-effective,” said Jean-Eric Fiorito, team leader at MAPAQ. “The Ingres system sets up the inspectors’ agenda to determine which restaurants and grocers should be inspected first according to geography and based on the results of previous inspections.”
This is just one of many mission-critical IT examples of open source in use by governments today. Each day, more governments and organizations are jumping on board, and receiving tremendous value by leveraging OS solutions. Ultimately, taxpayers and citizens will be the beneficiaries as governments turn to the less costly, more innovative OS technologies on the market.
Roger Burkhardt is CEO of Ingres Corp. (www.ingres.com).