Govt open source survey finds hidden uptake

Free software flies under the procurement radar

The federal government's survey on the perception and use of open source software throughout agencies is still being finalized, but representatives from the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) are already talking up the results.

The Australian government chief information officer, Ann Steward, said AGIMO recently completed a survey on free and open source survey which will be released "soon".

"We had a good response rate and aim to provide the information back to help others," Steward said.

The survey covers the existing level of usage of open source, the impact, and how it was adopted inside the agency.

"Why did we do it? It is part of today and our future," Steward said. "About half of the responding agencies have piloted, or are using, open source in their space."

Steward said the views of open source among federal government agencies are "positive" and many will look to deploy it in the future but part of the barrier is uncertainty over what level of support is available if they encounter any problems.

The interest in open source at the federal level ties into the move to more of a shared services model across government departments.

Speaking at the CeBit e-government conference in Sydney, Steward said the government needs to understand what shared services means because there are multiple interpretations of it.

"Shared services reduces duplication and exploits existing capabilities," she said. "Build once, use many times - you've heard it before - but it is hard to put in place as each department has its own programs."

To facilitate shared services AGIMO has a business transformation project to streamline and standardize common processes - a number of which have already commenced. One area is identity management across the government workforce.

"There are existing inhibitors, but it also an opportunity to share very large technology assets, particularly around data centres," Steward said.

One example of a large project shared services project was the development of a $10 million national emergency call centre to provide a single point of contact in the event of a disaster like a cyclone.

This was a whole of government project involving large agencies like the Department of Defence, the ATO, and Centrelink "coming together and working together".

A new response process was put in place and the call centre is distributed across five agencies and can handle some 50,000 calls per hour. The project was led by team at Centrelink.

For information sharing, the federal government also uses a repository called GovDex to facilitate business process collaboration between agencies.

"We have nearly 1000 users and they contribute pages in an active community," Steward said.

Waugh Partners director Pia Waugh said there are "many strong" case studies of use of open source throughout the world and it is important for governments to understand open source for reasons of collaboration, sustainability, and trust.

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