Open source needs to scuttle the t-shirt and sandal-wearing 'hacker' image and adopt a business-like, influential approach to win more business from government customers, according to an AGIMo's second-in-command.
Patrick Callioni, who is manager of the finance and administration division of the Australian Government Information Management Office, told the government day attendees at Linuxworld 2006 conference in Sydney this week that getting open source implemented in government "isn't easy".
"Doing business with government is not easy - be it proprietary software, open source software, chairs, desks, anything," Callioni said. "It's particularly not easy with the Australian government as there are about 190 agencies, ranging from one person to 120,000 desktops."
Making the procurement process more complicated is the fact that the people purchasing the business are not necessarily the same people who assess and make decisions about the technology, he said.
Callioni recommends that open source suppliers "explore the twilight of business and government".
"To deal with government you have to be more business-like," he said. "If you're going to need something for 10 years you don't want to deal with a company that's here today and gone tomorrow. We're interested in value for money and long-term support, so if you're not offering that don't complain about me not buying your product."
Despite the stern criticism, Callioni encouraged more adoption of open source solutions within government, saying "our doors are open".
"But it takes two to tango [so] don't sell me salt and pepper shakers," he said, adding it's possible to be in government and remain a human being. "We want the innovative potential of open source and it's not just about saving money -sometimes it can cost you more but you get more value."
AGIMO is already using open source with its MySource Matrix CMS, and has championed greater adoption by other agencies by publishing an open source procurement guide for federal government agencies last year.
"Think about new ways of doing business and be more business-like," he said. "Remember, we are the customers, so if you want to sell you need to put in more effort."
Callioni lamented the pressure put on government to expedite open source adoption.
"We're constantly being told we could do more, but that's not our job [and] you need to convince us of the benefits," he said.
In addition to suppliers not doing enough, Callioni cited public spending accountability, existing lock-in, legacy infrastructure, an inherent tendency towards conservatism, and legal considerations as all hurdles to open source adoption at the government's end.
"Anything the open source community can do to make legal issues easier and pre-digested will help them do business with government," he said.