I talked about the seismic shift we’ve seen in recent years, away from the
black-and-white divide between open-source software (OSS) and proprietary
technology. Today, you operate between those poles in a mixed-source world. You
have freedom to choose best-of-breed solutions from a blend of sources and assemble the most effective mix of components
for the job.
freedom brings responsibility as well as choice. Now that you’re free to choose
what you want in the mixed-source marketplace, how do you make the best
procurement decisions and invest public funds as responsibly as possible?
defining your exact needs for a project—before
you begin exploring solutions. When I talk to government decision-makers and
project managers, I make sure that everyone involved in a procurement project clearly
scope of the project
goals and specifications
public sector problem being solved
government vision that needs to be advanced
This clarity lays
the foundation for evaluating your options across a range of OSS solutions, proprietary
technologies, or both. The most
effective tool I know for making good choices is a decision-making framework
based on three pillars: tech neutrality, fitness for purpose, and total cost of
1. Technology neutrality
Tech neutrality means basing
procurement decisions on impartial criteria that don’t favor any business or
licensing model, development model, approach to intellectual property, or even
a specific solution. With a tech-neutral
attitude, you can fairly assess the merits of all possible solutions and choose the best combination of software
and technologies for a given situation. Your decision will be based on vital criteria:
cost (more on this below), interoperability, reliability, vendor support, ease
of use, and security.
lately has swung back from a bias toward OSS as an inexpensive cure-all. Many public-sector
organizations are taking a more balanced approach. On the
policy front, I’m seeing governments either repeal their former OSS-only stance
in favor of tech-neutral policies or add tech-neutral thinking into the mix. Support
for this trend is strong in the UN, the EU, and APEC, and in emerging as well
as developed nations. On the procurement front, many governments that have
tried OSS implementations have discovered flaws, difficulties, and higher costs,
and have embraced flexibility over preferential procurement policies.
Government Procurement Policies, summarizes the experiences of some 30 governments and
other organizations that have recently adopted tech-neutral policies, and points
to the substantial benefits they bring to consumers, governments, and
2. Fitness for purpose
Any tech solution must
genuinely address the requirements specified in the use case analysis of a given project. Simply put: Does the
software do what you need it to do?
Consider the recent experience of Freiburg, Germany. From
2007 to 2009, the city began migrating to OpenOffice with the goal of making it
the standard across agencies. They hoped usage would spread nationwide. But official
records revealed user complaints including document conversion problems,
instability, and crashes, and noted that workers still relied on legacy
versions of Microsoft Office to perform critical tasks. The OSS solution not
only failed to gain traction but also resulted in “reduced performance, anger,
and frustration among employees and affected external parties” according to the
official report. The city ultimately abandoned
the effort and returned to Office. The German Foreign Office, it’s worth
noting, also switched back to proprietary operating systems and office apps in
2011, after a nine-year trial of OSS alternatives on its 11,000 desktops.
3. Total cost of ownership
Licensing costs typically account for about 10 percent of
software expenses. If you want to find real savings, look at the other 90
of migration, training, maintenance, security, and achieving interoperability.
A clear-eyed accounting for the
total cost of ownership over the lifetime of a product can reveal that low
upfront costs don’t necessarily save money in the long run.
Here’s an example. In 2011, Helsinki, Finland, evaluated a
cost-saving proposal to install OpenOffice on some 21,000 workstations in the city
administration. The resulting study
compared all the costs
associated with migration and projected that OpenOffice would ultimately
cost 74 percent more than Microsoft Office over a seven-year period.
Similarly, the Dutch Court of Audit in the Netherlands stated
in its 2011 “Open
standards and open source software in central government” report: “We concluded amongst other things that the
potential savings the government could make by making more use of open source
software were limited.”
have to take my word that these procurement guidelines really work. Just look
at the experience of the many governments that are implementing them now and
enjoying the benefits.
a comment or opinion on this post? Let me know @Microsoft_Gov. Or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.