Joining open source communities should be a requirement for public sector open source use
Karel De Vriendt, a recently retired European Commission official previously involved in the Commission’s policies and activities involving open source software, has recommended that public sector organisations using open source software should join the associated open source communities, or require that their IT service providers join on their behalf, Joinup reports.
Using open source does not automatically imply interoperability, nor is it a guaranteed way to avoid lock-in, warned De Vriendt last Thursday during a workshop on the public sector and open source communities, organised by the European Commission’s ISA program (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations). The workshop was part of the Open Source World Conference held in Granada, Spain.
De Vriendt stated that software lock-in and vendor lock-in infects all other parts of the infrastructure creates all kinds of legal and freedom problems.
Speaking about bespoke software specifically for the public sector, De Vriendt would like to see the public sector collaborating on, sharing and re-using this type of software: “Paying software companies many times over for the same software or almost the same software is not a good use of public money.”
The public sector and their IT service providers should set up communities around such software, optimising the use of public money and facilitating interoperability and standardisation. De Vriendt also argued that citizens should be able to check if, for example, the software made for a tax agency correctly implements the relevant legislation and software that implements legal and administrative procedures should be transparent. “Citizens should be free to study the code.”
The former EU-official warned public sector organisations to study their software contracts carefully. “Make sure the code is yours, if the software is made especially for you or is maintained by contractors.” Even when using existing open source software packages made by others, he urged them to build real ties to the communities of open source developers and not to be mere consumers, benefiting from other people’s work. The involvement in the relevant community could be one of the main criteria for selecting IT service providers when external assistance is needed to introduce, adapt or support software packages.