Tag Archives: open source

What’s Ahead for Open Source in Government?

(originally published at opensource.com.  Republished with permission.  http://opensource.com/government/13/9/trends-open-source-government-2013)

It’s a relatively quiet time for most governments around the world right now. Typically, during this time there are few new initiatives, policies, or announcements related to open source.

So, it’s a good time to consider the trends of the first half of the year and ponder what the remainder of this calendar year holds.

Here are a few that come to mind.

Open Source will continue to be the ‘go to’ approach for governments around the world facing budget constraints amid growing demand for innovative services and citizen engagement.

I speak regularly about the trends in government open source and one of my consistent themes is that the ‘wind is behind’ the take up of open source for government missions.

More than 40 governments, by my conservative count, have policies that create a positive environment for open source use.

These policies are important to level the playing field: on the one hand highlighting the benefits of open source to governments (saying ‘it’s ok to use it’) as well as providing meaningful answers to commonly asked questions by government IT professionals.

The more potent driver toward open source software utilization, I’ve come to realize in recent years, is the fundamental shift in IT architecture, away from coupled hardware, software, and data to more modularity, reuse, and a central focus on interoperability—all of which is enhanced by tigher government IT budgets and the goal of avoiding vendor lock-in.

More recently, open source use has grown with the rise of high profile ‘digital agendas’. As a means of enhancing civic engagement, governments are using community-powered innovation to build open data and digital services platforms that are almost entirely built on open software and applications. We may truly be on the verge of the ‘citizen CIO’.

Increasingly, governments are wrestling with the ‘how tos’ of open source choices; not ‘whether’ to use it.

As broader acceptance of open source grows, governments are seeking to understand how to grasp the broad array of open source offerings that are available.

Their challenge has grown as governments move beyond use of open source in traditional server environments. Today, the cloud, big data, and mobile—which are heavily enabled by open source—are driving IT strategies. They make the question of How? especially acute: How do I take advantage of all this innovation, while still ensuring long-term reliability and consistency with my procurement goals?

To start, it’s important to understand the differences. There are OSS products which have commercial support from firms with proven track records of service and integrity. There are also “insourced” projects where agencies share software with each other, but not with the private sector. Finally, some agencies download community (also known as “freebie”) projects without any commercial support.

If government IT professionals rely solely on ad hoc rules or seat-of-the pants judgement, this exposes government agencies to significant risk that is not, at present, properly documented or understood:

  • There are distinct risks associated with choosing a “freebie/insourced” model for use of open source software. In particular, community/freebie projects or “insourced” projects are likely to lack key security certifications, regular updates, support from third-party vendors, and interoperability with your critical applications.
  • Relying on ‘freebie/insourced’ open source software effectively means a strategy of relying on internal support for critical mission which is unknown territory and potentially expensive, given the difficulty of obtaining and retaining qualified IT and management personnel.
  • We could see a repeat of the failures and long-term costs associated with ‘government-off-the-shelf’ (GOTS) solutions. Although the projects may be, technically, commercial items as generally understood by governments, they present the same risks and economic liabilities as government-off-the-shelf software.

On-going policy discussions will continue about ensuring an ‘open’ cloud.

In a recent opensource.com post, long-time open source advocate Georg Greve writes of the ‘storm triggered in the cloud’ by recent disclosures of access by intelligence agencies (US and others).

The challenge for open source software advocates is to continue to press for ‘openness’ in the infrastructure and implementation of open source, even as the critical issues of access to information is sorted through.

It won’t be easy. Even prior to these disclosures, it was becoming clear that government initiatives on the cloud were testing the community’s ability to maintain ‘openness’ in implementation of those strategies, even where there were long-standing public commitment to open source and open standards. Some have even spoken of the prospect of a forthcoming ‘cloud war’ between Europe and the US, which would undermine even basic efforts to promote open source cloud offerings globally.

That’s my quick take at the rest of 2013. What are your thoughts?

DC Metro Open Source Community Summit May 10, 2013

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is hosting the non-profit DC Metro Open Source Community Summit, to be held in Washington, DC on May 10th, 2013.  The program will include short sessions by community notables and an “unconference” format for maximum attendee participation, collaboration, and learning.
Open source community and user group leadership, open source project leads, committers and developers, non-profit foundations, open data engineers and others with an interest in learning more about growing and sustaining open source should attend.  Registration is free to government employees, $20 to non, and includes lunch.
Program details and registration information is available at the event web site.
Event sponsors underwriting the non-profit event include Google, Eclipse Foundation, Red Hat, GitHub, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and MIL-OSS.

New source code policy: open and shared

For the first time a U.S. Federal Agency (The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) has come out with a policy that clearly delineates how taxpayer investments in technology should be handled. since they say it best:

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was fortunate to be born in the digital era. We’ve been able to rethink many of the practices that make financial products confusing to consumers and certain regulations burdensome for businesses. We’ve also been able to launch the CFPB with a state-of-the-art technical infrastructure that’s more stable and more cost-effective than an equivalent system was just ten years ago.

Good internal technology policies can help, especially the policy that governs our use of software source code.

Some software lets users modify its source code, so that they can tweak the code to achieve their own goals if the software doesn’t specifically do what users want. Source code that can be freely modified and redistributed is known as “open-source software,” and it has been instrumental to the CFPB’s innovation efforts for a few reasons:

• It is usually very easy to acquire, as there are no ongoing licensing fees. Just pay once, and the product is yours.

• It keeps our data open. If we decide one day to move our web site to another platform, we don’t have to worry about whether the current platform is going to keep us from exporting all of our data. (Only some proprietary software keeps its data open, but all open source software does so.)

• It lets us use tailor-made tools without having to build those tools from scratch. This lets us do things that nobody else has ever done, and do them quickly.

Until recently, the federal government was hesitant to adopt open-source software due to a perceived ambiguity around its legal status as a commercial good. In 2009, however, the Department of Defense made it clear that open-source software products are on equal footing with their proprietary counterparts.

We agree, and the first section of our source code policy is unequivocal:

We use open-source software, and we do so because it helps us fulfill our mission.

Open-source software works because it enables people from around the world to share their contributions with each other. The CFPB has benefited tremendously from other people’s efforts, so it’s only right that we give back to the community by sharing our work with others.

This brings us to the second part of our policy:

When we build our own software or contract with a third party to build it for us, we will share the code with the public at no charge. 

Exceptions will be made when source code exposes sensitive details that would put the Bureau at risk for security breaches; but we believe that, in general, hiding source code does not make the software safer.

2012 CFPB Source Code Policy

UK Government publishes open source guidelines

by: Steve Evans, Published 04 November 2011
UK govt wants to dispel some of the myths around open source software
The toolkit contains information on procuring open source software as well as guides to vendors and what sort of costs are likely to be associated with going down the open source route.

In total the toolkit, available on the Cabinet Office’s website, contains six documents: All About Open Source – including FAQs, ICT Advice Note – Procurement of Open Source, Procurement Policy Note on Open Source, OSS Options, CESG Guidance on Open Source and Total Cost of Ownership.


Government moves to ease security restrictions stifling cloud and open source

Article in the computerweekly.com by Mark Ballard on Friday 30 September 2011 11:53

The government’s IT security arm, CESG, has begun relaxing security restrictions on the software it approves for public sector use to accommodate Cabinet Office plans for cloud computing and wider use of open source.

The electronics and computing arm of GCHQ has begun reforming its accreditations of IT suppliers to prevent CESG becoming an obstacle to the G-Cloud, through which the Cabinet Office intends to introduce a more liberal procurement regime.
More here:


  • reforms aimed to avoid putting SME suppliers through a “relentless”, “long-winded” and “burdensome” process “where you need to jump through x-many hoops”.
  • remove the obstacle CESG’s software certification process had put in the way of the local authority’s attempts to build an open source computing infrastructure.

Promoting Open Source Software in Government: The Challenges of Motivation and Follow-Through

by Andrew Oram

This is a prepublication version of an article published in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Volume 8, Issue 3, July-September 2011, copyright Taylor & Francis.
See permission notes here: http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/09/promoting-open-source-software.html

Discusses: “the four main criteria for successful adoption of open source by government agencies:

1. An external trigger, such as a deadline for upgrading existing software
2. An emphasis on strategic goals, rather than a naive focus on cost
3. A principled commitment to open source among managers and IT staff responsible for making the transition, accompanied by the technical sophistication and creativity to implement an open source strategy
4. High-level support at the policy-making level, such as the legislature or city council