Why Open Standards and Open Source Matters in Government


I have offered to the powers that be (TPTB) running the various Town Councils in Singapore an opportunity for the open source community to help build an application to manage their respective towns following the unfolding fiasco around their current software solution which is nearing end of life.

I am not surprised to hear comments and even SMS texts from friends who say that I am silly to want to offer to create a solution using open source tools. I can only attribute that to their relative lack of understanding of how this whole thing works and how we can collectively build fantastic solutions for the common good of society not only in Singapore but around the world.

I work for a company called Red Hat. Red Hat is a publicly traded company (RHT on NYSE) and is a 100% pure play open source company. What Red Hat does is to bring together open source software and make it consumable for enterprises. Doing that is not an easy thing. A lot of additional engineering and qualifications have to go into it before corporates and enterprises feel confident to deploy it. Red Hat has been successful in doing all of that because of the ethos of the company in engaging with open source developers (and hiring them as full time employees where appropriate) so that we can help the world gain and use better and higher quality software for everything.

That means that in taking open source software, Red Hat has to ensure that improvements and enhancements done are put back out as well to benefit everyone else and at the same time, at a price, provide a service to enterprises that want to use these tools but also want accountability, support, continued innovation etc. That is the Red Hat business model. We are the corporate entity that enterprises deploying open source tools look to for sanity.

Naturally, everything we create is available to anyone else, including our competition, and, yes, we can be beaten at our own game. That’s the best part. The fact that we can be challenged by others with what we helped create is a fantastic situation to be in as it forces us to constantly innovate (and in the open) and show how we are a responsible open source community member while giving tremendous value to enterprises.

It is in that spirit that I made the offer to help form a team of open source developers in Singapore to create the management system software for the town councils.  Certainly, when the software is built and deployed, the town councils would need to have competent support and there is nothing stopping any of the IT SMEs in Singapore picking up that opportunity. This gives the Town Councils significant advantage in choosing vendors to support their needs while keeping the innovation forthcoming because the code is open.

Here’s an article in an IT publication which I was interviewed about open source and CIOs – yeah, self promotion🙂. But, here’s a better article about how open source is so prevalent in the US  government as well (yes, Gunnar is a colleague of mine).

So, the offer to build an open source solution is genuine and sincere. It is not for me to make money out of it per se, but to foster a situation that will create even more opportunities for others to actively participate in create fantastic open source solutions for us not only for the Singapore public sector, but the world.

I hope this offer is taken up seriously by TPTB including parts of IDA and MND. And for the record, this offer has nothing to do with Red Hat.

2 thoughts on “Why Open Standards and Open Source Matters in Government

  1. A good public sector example is the city of Munich, which saved millions. It also provides a valuable lesson : no system integrator who plays the silly game of public sector tenders (see http://www.wissel.net/blog/d6plinks/SHWL-8HCJSR ) will propose Open source, even if there is a backing vendor like OpenERP, unless mandated in the tender. Mandating that runs foul of tender rules, so some creative wording around licence requirements is needed.

    1. Thanks, Stephan for your comment.

      It is not that the good folks at IDA don’t know this, it is the relative smugness of continuing to use only proprietary software and stuff that they are familiar with without thinking through the bigger issues of tax payer monies etc.

      While the phrase “value for money, fit for purpose” is a valuable way to assess any proposal, there has to be a consideration about long term viability and possible vendor lock in that the phrase does not address.

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