Govt open-source group nears critical mass

A new Australian council, which aims to drive the adoption of open-source technologies in local, state and federal government, is gathering steam and looks set to bring smaller IT providers back into contention when tendering for government contracts.

A new Australian council, which aims to drive the adoption of open-source technologies in local, state and federal government, is gathering steam and looks set to bring smaller IT providers back into contention when tendering for government contracts.

Proposed by the South Australian Government's chief information officer back in 2009, the Open Technology Foundation (OTF) aims to educate and support an open and level playing field for the adoption of open technology in governments across Australia, spearheaded by Steve Schmid, the foundation's strategic planner.

"We're looking to implement a neutral playing field in the public sector ICT and help them with interoperability, knowledge sharing and running projects, and trials on behalf of all member companies and organisations with potential international trials and research stemming from that," Schmid told ZDNet Australia.

The OTF is designed to not only drive a new open-source playing field, but also to provide support to organisations struggling to wrap their heads around open-source deployments.

"The major areas will be around research and building a repository of open software and sharing these software resources between government's, while running trials to support ongoing open-source activities," he said.

Schmid is passionate about open technology and about the job of the government. He feels that governments shouldn't be in the business of unnecessarily spending time and money on the research and implementation of large-scale IT projects, rather they should be in the business of governing the people.

"Governments need to govern and the market needs to develop systems and the different technology that it uses. The OTF will be there to support government in the roll-outs it selects from market," he said.

"An ICT manager of a [local] council said that she tried to implement Ubuntu on the desktops of the workers in her council. After a few months, she didn't have the contacts and didn't know who to turn to to find out what the problems were and who she could speak to for help. The OTF would be able to provide the conduits for support in her roll-out," Schmid said.

Looking forward, looking back

Progressing the OTF from a broad idea in 2009 into a working practicality has been a long journey for Schmid and his team. Working out of Carnegie Mellon University in South Australia, he left behind a strategist role in the government to bring the council together.

"We began our discussions [in 2008], which included most of the State Government and Federal Government representatives, industry and academics. We formalised the business plan, got in principle support and now it's ready to launch this and establish this," he said.

In the future, once the program has been officially launched, Schmid envisions PhD students and the Australian academic community contributing to the repository of open-source knowledge.

"I see academia playing a major role; masters and PhD level studies; they will be there to work on projects and initiatives with the OTF for open technology repositories and to build our knowledge capability. Unis are keen to get started and so are governments," he said.

Schmid even wants to take the OTF to the world, with support already coming in from New Zealand governments.

"We will begin our international sharing agreement and if we can do that by the end of the year then that's great. There's nothing stopping us doing this now," he added.

Regardless of the international aims, Schmid said that it was paramount to implement the OTF domestically, adding that it would not only help to support government in its open-source projects, but would also help smaller developers get their software noticed and save the government money on software licensing fees.

"If we don't do this together, then each of us do little bits in silos. We'll get much more deep and pointed [research] results if we do it in isolation, [and] if we can limit licence fees for software and redirect it into support through local ICT companies, you can see economic benefit of that."

Schmid's next task is liaising with the Australian Government Information Management Office about its support for the OTF, before an official launch within the coming months.