Good idea on open source falls short

I was looking at the results of the poll (CW May 19, p5) on Ian Gilfillan’s proposal that government give preference to open source over proprietary systems and was surprised at the results, given the South Australian situation.

Now I admit that I haven’t looked at the legislation in detail, but I do know a little about the South Australian government IT strategy and where this whole thing may have come from. Several years ago the South Australian government signed an outsourcing agreement with EDS, and, we all know that along with the positives in an outsourcing agreement there are negatives.

Sitting in the hallowed halls of Don Dunstan’s pink-shorted Parliament the maths look pretty simple, and potentially a vote winner, not only that the idea may have merit on its own.

Consider that SA government is, effectively, a Microsoft shop under the steerage of EDS. The taxpayer foots the bill for the government-owned IT staff, usually the managers who gave their staff the option of going to EDS or hitting the bricks. Taxes also pay for all the equipment and software sold to the government through EDS; sure they negotiate a good price but, let’s face it they’ve got to get dollars back to a parent that’s only making money by having shares in a red-ink company. The public purse also pays for the EDS people who drive the projects, fix the problems and as a flow on, in some respect they also fund the EDS back office that keeps all these services available.

Suddenly here comes the open source movement, supported by the big players except for Microsoft, a court-identified bullying monopolist.

Could this movement potentially reduce costs? You bet!

Will legislating this strategy cause a whole heap of heartache? You bet!

It would be smarter to say “our strategy is to use open source”, renegotiate the contract with EDS to reflect the change in strategy and then go to the local Microsoft headquarters and say, “We hear you’ve got a fund you can dip into to offset the cost of your software to the end user and you are able to give a 100 per cent offset. Give us the money or else we’re going Linux and OpenOffice.”

Ian Gilfillan’s idea isn’t bad, it just doesn’t go all the way.

James David Stockwell
Senior consultant
Leenix Pty Ltd
Sydney

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