It’s a mixed source world

When I look back over the last few years, I see that a seismic shift has transformed the world of information and communication technology. It’s not just the advent of the cloud, and the evolving paradigm of desktops, servers, and mobile devices. Rather, it’s a change in thinking about how we can apply the best technology for the job, for the right reasons—regardless of source.

Gone is the black-and-white divide between open source software (OSS) and proprietary, or fixed source, technology. Instead, we live today in a mixed source world, where no single approach to technology solutions can satisfy the myriad needs of industry and government.

Like their private-sector counterparts, governments around the world have recognized and embraced this reality, using both open and fixed source software and combining them to meet their goals. In doing that, governments are reaping the tangible benefits of choice—greater flexibility, heightened competition, lower costs, and increased efficiency.  (If you want to learn more about this, I can recommend a white paper, Microsoft and Open Source Software. The paper discusses a number of mixed source trends with the goal of helping policy makers engage in fact-based discussions about the software market and how it can enable economic and societal advancement.)

Choice drives change

So, what brought about this dramatic development? Well, in short, it was you—the customer. To meet your objectives, governments need, and deserve, the best technology available, and that means being able to choose and implement the solutions that work best for you.

What are some of the key motivators driving the push toward the mixed source environment?

Overall, the market requires interoperability, low cost, and support for the software and tools that are already owned. These requirements are particularly pressing in the public sector, where continuously shrinking budgets lead to difficult choices for public leaders.

Regarding interoperability, you rightly want your legacy systems and your new systems to work together. I’m not here to criticize open source, but what many governments have discovered is that OSS implementations may in fact hinder interoperability, because they can require increased coding and support that make the IT environment more complex and expensive over time.

For more insight on interoperability best practices and benefits, you might read eGovernment Interoperability, from CS Transform. This third-party report examines interoperability policies in 30 governments, and concludes that those aligned with tech neutrality are the clear winners in terms of cost savings and reduced complexity.

Governments evaluate true costs

For one government’s perspective on the cost savings component of mixed source solutions, the official report from the Dutch Court of Audit, Open standards and open source software in central government,” makes a very persuasive case. The Netherlands had set up a complex bureaucracy to administer its preferences for OSS and open standards, but then began to reconsider its investments and polices once the Court of Audit published its comprehensive policy review that concluded, among other findings: “All things considered, our recommendation is to not harbor any great expectations with respect to the potential savings to be achieved through broader application of open standards and open source software.”  Note that the study also included the potential cost savings from open standards and it reached the same conclusion.

Finally, on the important issue of support, you may find a recent case study, Government of the Punjab Chooses Microsoft Over, of interest. After evaluating OpenOffice, Linux, and other alternatives for modernizing its education programs, the provincial government ultimately chose Microsoft because of the support they knew they would receive. In the process, the province reported that it was able to reduce software costs to US$3 million from US$8 million and bring the project in well ahead of schedule.

Again, I want to stress that OSS can play a role in helping governments meet their goals, but as the above cases illustrate, it’s not a magic wand that cures all ills. Rather, it should be considered as one potential option within the range of mixed source solutions.

The key in the entire procurement process is making certain that the evaluation is conducted using objective criteria, a topic I look forward to exploring further in my next post.

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Scott F. Selby
Director, Global Government Affairs, Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs