As open source software continues to grow in popularity, more and more organizations are realizing the advantages offered by these solutions. A key example of the potential inherent to such an approach can be found in Australia, where the Department of Immigration recently leveraged open source to achieve major results on a tight budget, iTnews reported.
A new approach
According to the news source, the Department of Immigration needed to develop a means of sorting through millions of visitors to Australia, but was only provided a budget of $1 million.
To meet this challenge, the department turned to open source software, as Gavin McCairns, chief risk officer for the Department of Immigration, explained at the recent Technology in Government forum in Canberra. He noted that the initial pilot only cost $50,000, the bulk of which was spent on hiring a consultant to provide training and guidance to employees who lacked expertise in open source.
"We developed an approach based on phases of prototype, pilot and production. It was based on the idea of trying stuff for nothing or very cheap," said McCairns, the source reported.
McCairns explained that this project's goal was to reduce the number of passengers waiting in line for immigration officials' assistance in airports by making it faster and easier to travel into Australia.
ITnews noted that the country's current holiday visa system typically receives nearly 300,000 applications per year. With the new open source system in place, the Department of Immigration is able to sort through these documents far more quickly and effectively than previous approaches.
Open source advantages
McCairns asserted that government agencies too frequently overlook open source options in favor of proprietary software that is both more expensive and less fitting for their specific needs. For example, he noted that his own department previously invested $15 million in software solutions that ultimately were left underutilized, as no one really knew how to use the technology properly.
Open source avoids this outcome not only because it does not require such an initial investment, but also because the software can be tweaked and modified to meet the organization's needs. Proprietary solutions, on the other hand, are more or less set in stone.
However, that being said, it is important for decision-makers to realize that there are still limits to what open source can accomplish and risks involved in its use.
The news source reported that Dirk Klein, general manager of ANZ public sector markets at SAS, emphasized that open source software implementation requires significant investment in terms of human resources and ongoing maintenance. While this certainly doesn't mean that open source software is more expensive than proprietary solutions, it is crucial for firms to realize that there will be a cost associated with this approach, despite the software being free.
Additionally, Klein told iTnews there are risk issues involved in an open source deployment. Organizations utilizing such resources need to be keenly aware of the dangers specific to open source software and take proactive steps to achieve and maintain security.
To fully protect the organization while pursuing open source solutions, decision-makers should make sure to invest in the appropriate complementary tools. Scanning and auditing resources are critical for ensuring that firms using open source do so without risk of a security breach or licensing violation. These tools can identify issues early, before they become a reality, enabling the organization to take corrective measures before any serious costs develop. Without the right support system in place, even skilled open source software developers may overlook crucial security and licensing issues.