Suncorp envisages Linux, ODF for 20,000 desktops

Suncorp's CIO, Jeff Smith, says he would like the banking and insurance giant to use open source software for its 20,000 desktops, which currently run Windows XP.

Suncorp's CIO, Jeff Smith, says he would like the banking and insurance giant to use open source software for its 20,000 desktops, which currently run Windows XP.

Open source software is set to play an increasingly important role at Australia's sixth largest bank, according to Smith, who said that Suncorp will look to use open source "wherever we can".

"Our real vision is that we're going to use open source wherever we can, unless there's some capability that warrants the premium to buy software," Smith told

"I think in a lot of cases, the open source technologies are simpler, better and you end up getting better support from the community than you do with a lot of commercial products," he said.

Smith's views on open source software stand in direct contrast to the CIOs of key Australian government agencies, such as Defence, the Australian Tax Office and Centrelink, who recently cited support as a key barrier to its use.

Microsoft has been concentrating its efforts to prove that open source has a higher total cost of ownership compared to its proprietary solutions but Smith believes this is not where the real advantage of open source lies.

"If you look at Web and application servers, the open source environment is fine. But that's not where the real advantage is. The real advantage is in the capabilities that are being built now — identity management, access management, and even messaging. There have been some phenomenal open source technologies for that.

"So we're driving that quite hard and we've actually deployed a number of applications, not just with open source operating environments — Linux, Tomcat and Apache — those are the easy things. Where you really get the value is taking a look at things like underwriting engines, or pricing engines — things that are open source components and you plug into your environment," he said.

In the next few years, Smith might also put Microsoft on notice for Suncorp's 20,000 strong desktop fleet but the company is still in the throes of migrating 10,000 Windows 2000 desktops to XP, which it gained from its acquisition of insurance and finance company, Promina in 2006.

"We've done about 3,000 [desktops] and so you have to get a standard environment to do that. So our first course of action is to use that standard environment because it's incredibly productive, but in the next few years I think we will look at the desktop and what can be done there," he said.

Ironically, Smith's decision to bring open source to Suncorp's desktop rests heavily on Microsoft's decision to support OpenDocument Format (ODF) in Office 2007 — Suncorp's current office productivity suite. Smith said the two key factors that will determine how open source can be used at the desktop are legacy applications and the portability of documents.

Microsoft recently announced plans to add support for Open Document Format (ODF), Portable Document Format (PDF), and XML Paper Specification (XPS) in Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, due in the first half of 2009.

"The real biggest issue has been interoperability ... as soon as you have interoperability of documents — because it's really tied into Office — then you have a real opportunity to have open source at the desktop," he said.