As the advantages offered by open source software strategies become increasingly clear, many organizations in the public sector are turning to this approach. In terms of both performance and cost-effectiveness, open source is often the ideal choice for government agencies.
The latest department to follow this line of thought is the General Services Administration. As FedScoop reported, the GSA recently announced a new policy which will require the priority consideration of open source options whenever the agency begins to develop a new IT project.
Open source for IT
The news source noted that this is a somewhat controversial decision. Some observers question whether open source software solutions will be able to meet the GSA’s IT needs to the same degree as proprietary software. However, Sonny Hashmi, chief information officer for the GSA, is confident that looking to open source first is the best option for the agency.
“During the process of vetting new software, GSA plans to implement a process where open source software is considered within the ranks of conventional software,” Hashmi told the news source. “We are confident that our vetting process will identify the best software for each IT solution based on the merits of the software, while also factoring in cost, support, security and a myriad of other factors.”
Looking for government solutions
FedScoop reported that the GSA will specifically look at other federal agencies for inspiration as to how to best implement open source solutions. Hashmi pointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s openFDA as a key example of a successful open source implementation that yielded positive results.
“When the Food and Drug Administration built out openFDA, an API that lets you query adverse drug events, they did so in the open,” Hashmi said, according to the news source. “Because the source code was being published online to the public, a volunteer was able to review the code and find an issue. The volunteer not only identified the issue, but provided a solution to the team that was accepted as a part of the final product.”
Hashmi went on to argue that all solutions created using taxpayer dollars should be open source, so the general public can benefit from these developments.
Open source benefits
Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist for the U.S. public sector for Red Hat, argued that the GSA’s adoption of an open source-first policy will yield tremendous benefits for the agency.
“You use open source because it can be cheaper, easier to procure, more flexible, and gives you access to a community of developers and users that’s rare with proprietary software,” said Hellekson, the news source reported. “This kind of policy is already the de facto standard in the commercial world, and for good reason: Open source often provides more options, more innovation and better software for less money.”
Additionally, it is important to note that other government organizations have turned to open source solutions not just for efficiency and cost-savings, but also to achieve superior control over their software implementations. After all, proprietary solutions are by nature far less flexible than open source code. Many proprietary software developers demand that clients, including public sector organizations, agree to rigid contracts, which can further limit expansion and evolution over time. With open source, agencies can enjoy a much greater degree of freedom, which is critical for fast-changing IT environments.
By embracing open source software at an accelerating degree, many government agencies are positioning themselves to respond more quickly and effectively to the country’s needs in the coming years.