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Acquia: Canadian government should head towards open source software

Acquia: Canadian government should head towards open source software 

Open source software has become popular due to its flexible, affordable nature. Many businesses and individuals use open source software on a daily basis. Some governments also see the appeal of this model. Mathieu Weber, director of Canada for the SaaS company Acquia, shared details of the Canadian government’s progress with open source software.

“Though the Canadian government has adopted open source technologies to power certain key applications, its technology stack is still largely run on proprietary technologies,” Weber commented. Where does Canada stand in relation to other countries when it comes to open source adoption? “Canada’s adoption lags behind that of countries like France, the U.S. and Australia; these countries have all created official policies around the use of open source in government,” Weber responded.

In spite of the lag, Weber noted that there are some bright spots in the Canadian government regarding open source adoption. “Differences within our government nonetheless exist: The Canadian Space Agency and our Armed Forces, for example, are heavier users of open source than most departments,” he said. “Furthermore, select open source technologies such the as content management framework Drupal have strong momentum; CTA, PWSG, Via Rail, CNC and a handful of other agencies now run their web presence on Drupal.”

Weber pointed out a number of benefits to using open source software. “Open standards provide organizations with the agility to adopt the best solutions for their needs without the financial or technology lock in considerations that come with proprietary systems,” he stated. “Open source has been proven to speed the pace of innovation as project teams can focus on key projects rather than maintain systems. Most open source technologies are supported by a vibrant community of contributors and implementation partners. Open source projects can offer greater security protocols and assurance than may be available from proprietary offerings. Rather, open code means every developer can evaluate code and discover potential security issues.”

What is keeping the Canadian government from a wider adoption of open source technology? “The main barriers to open source adoption are educational, organizational and political,” Weber stated. “Misconceptions surrounding open source technologies abound; decreasing the credibility gap caused by these perceptions starts with educating key government decision-makers about the benefits and feasibility of open source.” IT teams are also to blame. “This ‘awareness barrier’ is often compounded by resistance to change within IT departments; affiliations to certain technology stacks or business processes that have been in existence for 10 or more years require organizational change to overcome,” he asserted. “Finally, the lack of a clear policy outlining our government’s position on open standards creates lack of direction inhibiting more widespread adoption of open source technology.”

These barriers are not insurmountable, though. “There isn’t a single formula to encouraging open source adoption,” Weber acknowledged. “That said, a clear policy on the matter and follow-through helps.” He provided an example from France. “In 2005, the French government required the Gendarmerie to build as much of its IT infrastructure as possible on standards and protocols,” Weber remarked. “The motivations for such an initiative were related to cost savings, independence, portability and security. Their research concluded that open source software was the logical solution to achieve these objectives as it better supports standards and protocols than proprietary alternatives. Two years later, this initiative was deemed a success: 85 percent of all computers within the agency are now powered by Linux and Libreoffice is the desktop application package for the entire police force. By flexing its muscle, the French government found a way to overcome adoption barriers in this specific case.”

If the French example was not enough to convince government decision makers, Weber pointed to two other benefits of open source adoption. “Open source adoption tends to encourage regional IT talent to develop the necessary skills to support their governments therefore leading to local economic spinoffs,” he said. “Open source doesn’t carry licensing costs, though there are associated maintenance and support costs. Organizations that adopt open source technologies can discover measurable and significant financial benefits and a lower total cost of ownership within the first year following adoption.”

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