Over the past couple of weeks we’ve explored some of the key barriers to the uptake of open source software within the public sector. In this final instalment we focus on one of the most pressing issues….costs!
Myth 3: There is no financial case for open source
Public sector IT managers are aware of the surface benefits – financially speaking - of switching to open source. After all, the lower acquisition costs are plain for all to see. But in their drive for cost efficiency, many local authorities remain sceptical over adopting open source. First, there is the common fear that migration, support and maintenance costs might outweigh those of proprietary systems. There can also be concerns that authorities would be paying from individual budgets for code that can ultimately be used elsewhere. In short, there’s a wide held belief that the financial case for implementing open source just isn’t strong enough… or is it?
So-called Total Cost of Ownership calculations often fail to accommodate the vendor lock-in of proprietary systems. As well as a large initial investment, proprietary software also accrues renewal fees. Open source adoption however lowers the upfront costs and requires less cash flow over the lifecycle of the system. Looking at it this way, favour immediately sways towards the adoption of OSS. Furthermore, using open source can significantly reduce the amount of development time associated with fixing bugs, because shared code has inevitably been put to the test already.
Local authorities are working with increasingly restricted budgets and in this context, questions might be raised as to a decision that ultimately favours investing in the development of what is essentially a ‘non-exclusive’ service. Open source by its very nature is a sharing platform, but this really shouldn’t be seen as a negative trait. Indeed, it opens up the potential for a more collaborative way of working, which can only be beneficial for the public sector as a whole.
Financially, it makes sense for government agencies to share digital infrastructure and there are numerous examples of success. The North West Shared Infrastructure Service, for instance, has made great strides in improving patient care by providing a framework through which services can be offered to NHS organisations. This has led to the development of innovative IT healthcare schemes such as tele-practice With this kind of shared cost, there is an increased incentive for organisations such as local authorities to consider open source software as an alternative.