Australia's $21 billion ICT trade deficit could be dramatically reduced if the local industry played to its strengths and exported services using open source software, according to industry analyst Jeff Waugh.
Speaking at an open source industry roadshow in conjunction with National ICT Australia (NICTA), the flamboyant Waugh, a director of consulting firm Waugh Partners, said open source is "great" for Australia because it provides a "huge opportunity" to export services.
With ICT equipment making up the bulk of the deficit, followed by software and services, Waugh said simply taking the cost out of software imports will not have as great an effect on the imbalance of trade but leveraging Australia's large open source skills base could.
"Using open source would not yield the most savings so unfortunately that will stick around for a while," Waugh said. "But we have a huge amount of open source skills and five years ago we were the number one contributor to open source per capita."
Waugh said Europe's mass adoption of open source has changed that ratio, but Australia's pool of open source talent can be exported to the world via implementation and support services.
Waugh Partners is conducting a census on the proliferation of open source to gauge the level of adoption among local enterprises and to help businesses become more aware of its relevance.
"We think open source is good for the IT industry and innovation," Waugh said. "It has ignited competition with companies using open source to enter the industry and create new business models. It has raised the value point over just the software product itself - you have to have great integration, service and support to succeed. And it lowers the barrier to entry as you can create products built on open source to provide grander solutions."
Also speaking at the event, NICTA chief operating officer Phil Robertson said there is a growing awareness within the research community of the importance of open source.
"In quite a lot of our research work it is a critical part," Robertson said. "Open Kernel Labs built a business model around open source so we are looking at business models that can be built around open source to capture the benefits into the national economy."
NICTA is now looking to understand the uses of open source to see what is likely to happen in the future.
The census, dubbed Stand Up And Be Counted is online at http://waughpartners.com.au/research/census2007. The report will be freely available in February 2008.