Australian government offers open-source guide

Under a policy of 'informed neutrality', federal and state government departments are to receive information about assessing open-source software products

A new guide designed to help federal government agencies evaluate open-source products alongside their proprietary rivals is due to be completed and distributed by September, officials told ZDNet Australia on Wednesday.

The guide, to be a specialised supplement to the existing Guide to ICT Sourcing for Australian government departments and agencies, is also designed to reinforce the federal government's position of "informed neutrality in ICT sourcing", the officials said in emailed replies to questions from ZDNet Australia.

News of the guide was first posted to Linux and open-source groups yesterday.

Tony Judge, Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) acting general manager, sourcing and security, told ZDNet Australia that the guide, while targeted at federal government agencies, would also be made available to their state and territory counterparts.

He said a draft was expected to be completed and distributed for comment in mid-to-late August.

"The guide is being developed to assist agencies in making informed decisions on the merits of open-source software and to provide a basis on which these solutions can be compared with other options on the criteria of fit for purpose and value for money," the officials said.

They cited the increasing uptake of open-source solutions within the Australian government sector as the market driver behind preparing the new guide, citing "high-profile open-source software" initiatives being undertaken by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, Centrelink and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Other agencies pursuing open-source initiatives include the Institute of Health and Welfare and AGIMO itself, which is using open source in its AusTender federal government tendering site and its Web content management system.

The guide's format is expected to closely follow that of the existing ICT Sourcing guide (which provides information, approaches and tools for agencies to consider when adopting and implementing new ICT investments), while dealing with issues specific to open source procurement. "For example, in procuring an open-source solution, agencies may be purchasing services and support rather than a tangible product," the officials said.

"It will also cover issues such as using open-source software in a mixed ICT environment -- increasingly the environment in which open source solutions are deployed."

"The guide will also address the legal and risk management issues associated with open-source solutions as these areas differ considerably from the more familiar proprietary model."

Judge said AGIMO would turn to its existing panel of legal providers, some of whom had a strong background in open-source issues, to compile advice for the guide, while it would turn to organisations in the private and public sectors to secure advice on risk management.

The officials also noted the guide would not carry legal weight, with the Financial Management and Accountability Act (1997) and associated Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines continuing to form the legislative basis for Australian government procurement.

ZDNet Australia's Iain Ferguson reported from Sydney. For more coverage from ZDNet Australia, click here.