The Open Knowledge Foundation and University of Cambridge recently published a must-read-and-circulate-widely report on why open source software matters for government and civic tech and how to support it.
The report addresses logical reasoning around why government must adopt open source into digital services and how proprietary vendor sales strategies put government personnel at a disadvantage when considering IT option, as well as undermine long-term technical sustainability.
I fully agree with the findings that there needs to be a “Choose Open” type of movement that effectively advocates and educates open source awareness in government. While its adoption is on the rise and in some cases mandated, especially at the U.S. federal government level, there is still a “proprietary is better” legacy mentality amongst some IT leaders that blocks open source implementation on a larger scale.
Governments over-discount the future
Governments, or, at least, bureaucrats have short time horizons, at least relative to the lifetime of software. Elected governments often last only a few years, and inside those governments bureaucrats move around frequently. Thus, a bureaucrat who buys a particular piece of software will rarely still be in the same post when the consequences of that decision are felt, especially if we are thinking in terms of later upgrades and customization.
Thus, government software buyers care much more about today than tomorrow and will quite happily trade, for example, a $5m saving in buying software today for a $50m higher cost of software three years down the road. This means that “future features” such as ease of customization or switching are given much less weight than “today’s features” such as a cheap price or more options.