This afternoon I gave a short presentation about open source in the public sector to a group of CIOs from European cities. I told them how I’ve gradually seen the emotional and “religious” arguments behind open source being replaced by more rational cost and vendor independence considerations, and I pointed to the recent UK open source policy (analysis here for Gartner clients) as an example of a balanced position based on best value for money.
One question was about the role of open source for small local authorities, which have limited financial resources and scarce IT technical and management resources. The argument in favor of open source has always been the very low cost of access (for what concerns systems software or generic packages, such as office applications) and the ability to create communities to reuse vertical open-source applications (such as ADULLACT or Plone.gov).
Reality is that small local governments would just like to forget about IT. Whether via consolidation, or shared service, or through commoditized solutions accessible as a service, they need to focus time and attention on what really matters to their citizens and – let’s face it – IT does not matter as much as other areas, especially these days.
Whether to use open source or proprietary software is just too far away from their everyday priorities. If somebody can provide them with what they need at a price they can afford and with the skills they have, they’ll take it, doesn’t matter if proprietary or open source. In this market , the potential for commoditized, consumer-like solutions in areas like portals, email, office solutions is huge. And so is the potential for other cloud-related propositions, such as maps, multimedia storage, and social media in general.
Sure many of this run on open source, but will local authorities care? I doubt it.