Sitka Technology Group partners to create a range of software solutions with open-source licenses, including ProjectFirma, Miradi, Stormwater Tools, and the Water Accounting Platform. As we discuss these platforms with our colleagues in the public sector, we find that many people still have questions about open-source software. To address these questions, I like to point to examples from the private sector. The success of open-source solutions in this highly competitive marketplace helps our clients trust the quality, security, and efficiency of this approach for public sector projects.
Silicon Valley giants, including Apple and Google, lead and contribute to a wide range of open-source projects. Many software products we use every day are open-source, including the Firefox web browser, Apache web server, and the Linux and Android operating systems.
Over the past few years this private sector success has helped drive greater adoption of open-source development for public sector software projects. In 2013 the United Space Alliance, which manages the computer systems for the International Space Station, chose to switch from Windows to Debian GNU/Linux. In 2016 the US government issued a memorandum announcing a policy mandating that at least 20% of custom source code developed by or for any federal agency must be released as open-source software. Many software products created to predict impacts of climate change and water scarcity use the open-source model.
Open-source solutions are the alternative to proprietary software, which is unfortunately still very common for public sector projects. Proprietary platforms can be a reasonable solution if you are buying something off the shelf or prefer a “rent rather than own” subscription approach. But if you are having anything custom built, talk to your vendor about open-source options. Some vendors may try to secure a proprietary agreement without making the license terms clear.
It is my belief that open-source should be the norm when investing public dollars in custom software solutions. Any time you are commissioning custom built software, seek vendors who are actively engaged in using and building open-source solutions. If a vendor proposes proprietary solutions, ask if it can be made open-source. There can be valid reasons to spend public dollars on private technology, but it should not be the default and vendors should be prepared to clearly articulate why open-source doesn’t work in those cases.
I see a not-too-distant future where the default approach for publicly funded technology is an open-source solution. By choosing an open-source model, you can benefit from shared solutions; other users have the opportunity to pick up where you left off, enhancing collaboration and developing features and functionality that will flow back to you.
Examples of open-source software products from the private sector