Government ready for open source?

Open source software has become an established option for many government organisations outside of the region, but uptake of open source is still in the early stages in the Middle East

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Government ready for open source? Are government organisations in Middle East failing to open up to the value of open source?
By  Mark Sutton Published  September 14, 2015

The open source software sector has seen significant growth since the concept was first coined in the late 1990s, growing from a hacker and hobbyist ethos of publicly sharing code, to enable it to be developed by a wider community, to a well-established part of the software market today. Open source software or software components are now commonly found in as much as 95% of mainstream IT organisations, according to Gartner, and commercial software companies have built multi-million dollar businesses on software that is regarded as ‘free’.

For the government sector, the uptake of open source software has in some ways mirrored the uptake of the enterprise sector in many regions, but in the Middle East, there is still a very varied approach to the adoption of open source solutions for government IT projects, and in the support that government gives to fostering national OSS capabilities and skills. This marks a strong contrast with other countries, notably in western markets, where OSS-based solutions are used in a wide range of sectors, even including sensitive areas such as data analytics for the defence sector and electronic patient record (EPR) systems, and where open source solutions may be given preference in purchasing decisions.

The growth of OSS in the commercial sector has grown rapidly in terms of adoption and importance, according to Mukesh Chulani, research manager, IDC Government Insights: “More and more organisations are realising the benefits of open source software. In fact, according to Black Duck Software’s 2015 Future of Open Source Survey results, use of open source software to run business IT environments has doubled since 2010.”

Open source software components are increasingly used to build commercial solutions, he noted. Sonatype Inc’s analysis of the Central Repository, the largest source of open source components for developers, showed 13 billion open source software component requests in 2013, as compared with 500 million such requests in 2007, and Chulani said OSS components can often make up as much as 90% of the application.

He predicts that open source will increasingly be important to government in the region: “Not only is open source software able to support faster delivery of applications, but it is also enabling lower costs. Both should serve as attractive value propositions to CIOs in the government sector, who are increasingly challenged with doing more with less and delivering IT solutions faster.”

Proponents of open source solutions and components point out that the benefits of OSS are not just in savings on licensing costs, but also in the flexibility it provides in giving access to proven components to create solutions with, without having to start from scratch, and also in the depth of community support to find fixes, updates and add-on features.

Wes Caldwell, chief technology officer, Intelligent Software Solutions, said that the open source sector has matured significantly in the past decade. ISS produces a number of solutions for public and private sector, mainly in the fields of data analysis and visualisation, with a strong customer base including US federal government agencies and the Department of Defence.

Caldwell said that as the market has shown increased professionalism, it has allowed companies like ISS to use open source projects like Apache Hadoop or Apache Spark, as the basis for its own solutions, cutting development time and passing on licensing cost savings to the end customer.

“Open Source has been professionalised over the last ten years. You get large conglomerates, like the Apache Software Foundation, that is an umbrella around a set of open source projects. What you get is professionalisation of how that software is managed, how it is released, how it is developed, how it is tested. It is not just a garage project from a single developer, it is a now professional piece of software, that now as a software integrator, as a software company, as ISS, we can take those mature products, and embed them into our products, and right away, you have an accelerator, to get you down the road and really focus on building that value add for the customer, versus focusing on some infrastructure that open source has already provided.”

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