The tide is turning with the use of open-source software within the Australian government, according to the chief technology officer John Sheridan, with departments shifting from buying proprietary software to buying support for open-source software such as Drupal.
Speaking at Forrester's Summit For CIOs in Sydney today, Sheridan said that when he first rose through the ranks in government, open source was not an option for government because when it failed, it would not be easy to explain to senators in Senate Estimates.
"You go to Senate Estimates, the senator says, 'Why did your system fail Mr Sheridan?' and I say, 'Well, actually, I was just relying on help that I would find on the internet by posting questions to the bulletin board, and unfortunately no one answered fast enough'," he said.
But there has been a change in the way government approaches open source, he said, with increasing deployment of open source in server rooms and datacentres, but also in web content management systems, in particular with the use of Drupal.
"There's a company in Canberra that has a free Drupal open-source distribution to support government websites. A distribution that supports the particular requirements government has in terms of accessibility, security, and related matters. They of course provide support for that, and that's I guess their business model," he said.
"So popular is Drupal in Canberra at the moment that we're starting to see challenges in getting appropriately qualified staff because they're in such high demand."
A brief search of the Australian government's tender website reveals that many different government agencies, including the Department of Finance and Deregulation, the Department of Climate Change, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations have all awarded contracts for work on Drupal platforms.
Under current government policy, for projects over AU$80,000, government agencies are required to consider open-source software along with proprietary software, with decisions made based on what offers the most value for money. Sheridan said that in many cases, open source is better value to the government than proprietary software now that better support is available.
"The proprietary solutions require an increasing fees, require expensive support or maintenance costs, and often the more advanced or popular features — the ones that really make a business difference — require so much investment of time and were so hard to get people to do that in some cases, it is prohibitively expensive or impossible to get out of once you're in," he said.
"This change to open source has changed the way I think that we do business."