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Governments must leverage Open Source
Transformation is at the heart of government agenda, with service delivery improvement key among transformation initiatives.
However, as with all Government initiatives, cost is always a significant driver, which means many proprietary software solutions simply are not affordable. Free Open Source Software (FOSS) has huge potential to be an enabler for effective service delivery. It provides a platform to develop and customise solutions to meet specific requirements at a lower cost than proprietary technologies.
While the benefits of FOSS are multiple, this technology is immature in South Africa, and presents a variety of challenges, including a skills shortage, perceived security issues and more importantly, the lack of buy-in by Industry.
One of the main drivers to go the FOSS route is to cut down ICT related costs while bridging the gap between Government and its citizen utilising technology. However, in order to realise the true benefits of FOSS, it is essential that the IT industry as a whole supports and invests in this initiative.
While the idea of dramatically cutting costs and margins potentially conflicts with corporate business models, there is enormous opportunity in a shared risk model between Government and the IT industry. Specific areas of interest should be identified as a test case. Once done, all issues and risk related to new projects should be established, allowing organic growth in a ‘safe environment”.
The intent should always be about bridging the gap between services and citizens, addressing inequalities in service delivery at a relative lower cost. This objective needs to be shared by all.
Our history is one that has caused serious imbalances with regard to the delivery of services, and many citizens as a result still do not have access to water, electricity and other basic requirements. In order to create a society where people have equal opportunities and access, Government needs to deliver services effectively and efficiently, and ICT could provide the platform to enable this.
By its nature FOSS provides Government with relative flexibility to utilise the technology at will, providing speedier options to develop and adapt to constantly changing and demanding citizens. It also provides the opportunity to drastically reduce costs, build new capacity and skills.
FOSS does bring its fair share of challenges as discussed earlier, however, these are no different to those related to any new technology adoption. A partnership between Government and Industry will significantly reduce the majority of the perceived threats. Partnerships between Government and private sector around the delivery of FOSS will help to provide the necessary skills, share the risk, and deliver ICT that works for South Africa to enable sustainable transformation.