French tax agency goes open source

Groklaw interviews French Tax Agency CTO Jean-Marie Lapeyre on that government's adoption of open source software.

On Groklaw, an interview with Jean-Marie Lapeyre, CTO of the French Tax Agency, on that government's continued move to open source.

[S]ince June 2004, strengthened by our very positive experiments, we chose to change a bit our policy and commit to FOSS. This means that for every software choice we have to make, if an available FOSS piece of software answers our needs and meets the necessary requirements (say, maturity, ability to be industrialized, strength of the community, etc.), then we are inclined to use it. And because we develop nearly every business software we use (there is no real market for managing French taxes :-) , it leads to make FOSS the main part of our software asset, including the critical parts of it (besides those for which we have made another choice beforehand).


PJ: Can you tell us why you decided on FOSS? What advantages do you find?

LAPEYRE: FOSS helps us to achieve our strategic goals: control of our IT system, long-term sustainability, and independence from vendors.

As a side effect, it allows us to cut our software costs We are trying to evaluate the software TCO implied by our policy. It's probably a bit more than an overall factor of 10 (speaking of strict software costs: licensing, support, corrective and basic evolutive maintainance). It's less for critical pieces of software like application servers (around 4), much more for others (see below).

PJ: As far as office software is concerned, what do you need it to do?

LAPEYRE: We do not use a lot of advanced features in office software. Our employees mainly use our specialized business applications. So we have only quite basic needs.

One benefit we have already used (on the previous version) is the standard file format which eases the connection with business applications and allows us to be consistent with our policy, even for this type of computing use. But it is not the definitive argument here.

PJ: Have you calculated how much money a migration to OpenOffice would cost? How much it might save long-term?

LAPEYRE: It will cost probably 3 to 10 man years to adapt the business applications, and cost some (a bit less than 3) tens of millions of euros less than switching to a recent version of Microsoft office (licensing costs and training mainly). This last one, once every, say, 5 years.


PJ: Some say that governments should care more about the fact that the majority of people use Windows already instead of stressing completely open standards. If you were in a conversation with someone in a government agency other than your own and this came up, how would you respond? Why are open standards particularly important/beneficial to governmental entities?

LAPEYRE: Considering the specific nature of the missions involved, it is probably important to be able to be as independent as possible and try to make sustainable choices in the long run. And because IT systems are now the heart and the nerves of our organizations, the principle must apply to it. I hope we do agree on that.

But on the other hand, we know it is dangerous and inefficient to follow this principle too blindly and let us specify and develop highly specific, home-made systems. This leads to a failure every big organization has probably already lived.

So, we are stretched between the principle and pragmatic necessity, which, if applied without a clear understanding of the rules of this industry, can lead to concretely abandoning home keys to actors not necessarily sharing the same goals.

I think the balance is to rely on open standards; it is the only one I can imagine.