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By Clarice Africa | 21 February 2014

A few years ago, a global analyst firm went so far as to describe open source as the ‘hype du jour’ and some people even labelled it as something destined for the student and hobbyist market.

Today, its collaborative innovation model has prompted some governments to go ‘Open Source by default’ by releasing everything it does to the community.

“Trends right now are on the collaboration and creation of platforms and ecosystems. Gone is the era of the monolithic one-software-for-all mentality. It is now conventional wisdom that some services and components are better offered by other entities and it is their integration that is driving the development of this ecosystem,” Dr. Alvin Marcelo, an eHealth Adviser for an international development agency, said.

“Interestingly, collaboration is innate to open source software, helping it thrive in this new ecosystem. Its open character makes it a natural in the new economic order of web services and the API marketplace.”

So how much can it save organisations?

“Let’s do a reverse quantification method using elimination,” Dr. Marcelo stated.

“On one side is open source, and on the other is proprietary software. If a component appears on both side, then we cross it out since its present on both sides. What do we see on both sides? Hardware, network, developer time, integration costs and training. When you’ve crossed out equivalent features on both sides, you’ll be left with source code access for client, and this tilts the balance in favour of the consumer,” he explained.

As more and more governments turn to open source, this trend is bringing about a change in the procurement attitude of many public sector organisations.

“A few years ago, the conventional thinking was that open source was free and not worth the expense. Enlightened management now understands that they are procuring expertise, code quality, and transparency. Nowadays, a lot of open source software companies are making money by offering reliable support and quality services. In addition, other components of the ecosystem emerge such as certifications, testing and third party evaluation. These types of services would not have prospered as fast were it not for open source software.”

While we are indeed seeing a progressive uptake of open source in governments, Dr. Marcelo shared that a key impediment to its adoption rests primarily on the risk appetite of the organisation.

“Many enterprises do not have risk frameworks that could have allowed them to evaluate open source software. In this situation, their usual attitude is to be conservative against the adoption of Free Open Source Software (FOSS). Interestingly, for companies with enterprise risk governance, they have tools and mechanisms for controlling their risks and FOSS adoption is more systematic in these places.”

“At the end of the day, FOSS is like any other software. It needs to be supported, updated, and maintained. Accountability is important for enterprise adoption and I think the FOSS community already understands that and have made commercial support available,” Dr. Marcelo said.

He added that whether a software is proprietary or open source, good IT governance is important to ensure the success of any endeavour.

“This is a prerequisite for success. Once IT governance is in place, and with it a risk framework, they should apply that to software and systems selection. I am sure that open source will be able to stand side by side with proprietary software with this method and will win in many areas,” he concluded.