The Australian Government Information and Management Office (AGIMO) has revealed it is opening up software procurement from March 2011 by requiring agencies to consider open source software in their ICT purchasing.
In a post on AGIMO’s Blog, Special Minister of State Gary Gray announced that the Government was revising their previous position of ‘informed neutrality’, which was established in 2005. Their old policy, according to Gray, did not favour open source or proprietary software, instead basing procurement on what was best value and fit for purpose for individual agency’s specific requirements.
More than half a decade later, the ‘open source’ concept and information technology as a whole has undergone significant improvements, prompting the revision.
‘In recent years, many governments have revised their policies to increase the adoption of open source software’, Gray wrote.
‘This revised Australian Government policy...will ensure that we maintain international best practice and that our purchases of software will continue to reflect best value for money for the government’
According to the Open Source Software Policy Principles (OSSPP), for procurements of $80,000 or more, agencies must consider open source options when purchasing software. The policy provides three principles which must be adhered to in all software procurements from 1 March 2011.
Principle 1 – Active and fair consideration of all software options by purchasers
Principle 1 requires that ICT procurement processes actively and fairly consider all types of available software, including but not limited to open source and proprietary software. To satisfy this requirement, agencies must include in their procurement plans and tender documents that open source software will be equally considered alongside proprietary software.
Principle 2 – Active and fair consideration of all software options by suppliers
Principle 2 enunciates similar requirements for suppliers, who, under the new policy, must provide a justification as to why they considered and/or excluded open source software.
Principle 3 – Agencies to participate in open source software communities
Principle 3 introduces a continued discussion and development element by compelling Australian Government agencies to participate in open source software communities. This will be achieved by AGIMO’s active monitoring of international best practice methods in the open source software arena and contributing to the discussion where appropriate.
Despite the fact that AGIMO’s new policy provides more opportunities for open source technology in an area traditionally dominated by proprietary software, the Office has drawn criticism from industry media, who claim that the OSSPP is at odds with AGIMO’s release of the Common Operating Environment (COE) policy on 18 January.
AGIMO’s Blog post on the COE policy reveals that of the 265,000 PC operating environments across Australian Government agencies, 99.5% were based on Windows, while 86% utilise MS Office.
Computerworld also noted that less than a year ago at the CeBit Australia conference, John Sheridan was sceptical about the role of open source suppliers in government, commenting that open source vendors would need to improve their levels of support if they wanted to move into the public sector.
AGIMO’s announcement will, however, make at least a few people happy, including the Australian Greens, who have been campaigning for open source software to be included in government procurement since the Federal election. As Intermedium reported in July 2010, Scott Ludlam raised the issue at a Senate Estimates Hearing in February 2010, only to be told by AGIMO that the government was yet to be convinced as to the savings open source software would generate.
A number of government agencies did not need to wait for the new policy position to make the move, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the National Archives of Australia (NAA) all utilising open software in one or more forms.