SSC backs exclusively open-source spec
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A requirement that a component of a government IT tender be open-source has sparked debate on whether such a specification is appropriate.
The State Services Commission, in a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a redevelopment of its website at www.ssc.govt.nz, stipulates that the content management system (CMS) should be open source.
This restriction was immediately questioned, both in a public online forum and, apparently, by a would-be respondent supplier. A carefully-worded amplification was appended to the RFP document on the government procurement site GETS within a day of the issue of the RFP itself.
In the appendix describing the required CMS, the RFP document says: “We are looking for an Open Source solution. By Open Source we mean:
Produce standards-compliant output;
l Be documented and maintainable into the future by suitable developers;
l Be vendor-independent, able to be migrated if needed;
l Contain full source code. The right to review and modify this as needed shall be available to the SSC and its appointed contractors.”
SSC spokesman Jason Ryan says there is nothing particularly unusual about restricting a requirement in this way. An open source solution, he said earlier this week, would make it easier to apply the same solution to other government agencies.
An addendum explaining the point was about to go up on GETS, he told Computerworld “and I’d rather you wait and read the wording of that than that I try to rephrase it in my own words.”
The explanatory addendum says:
“The Commission has stated that an open source CMS is a requirement with a view to saving the government money and avoiding unnecessary reliance on a single supplier of a proprietary product. Its decision to do so is consistent with the Mandatory Rules for Procurement by Departments and the Auditor-General's Procurement Guidance for Public Entities.
“The former states that ‘[d]epartments must make procurement decisions on the basis of value for money of goods and services to be supplied, and not on the basis of their place of origin or the degree of foreign ownership or affiliation of the supplier’.
Similarly, the Auditor-General's guidance states that ‘[p]ublic entities should use resources effectively, economically, and without waste, with due regard for the total costs and benefits of an arrangement, and its contribution to the outcomes the entity is trying to achieve.’
“In the Commission's view, there is nothing in either the Mandatory Rules or the Auditor-General's guidance that precludes specifying an open source CMS as a requirement. To the contrary, where appropriate, doing so may secure the best value for money. There are many open source solutions that are likely to meet the Commission's requirements and enable it to share components with other agencies who wish to leverage the Commission's investment without licensing impediments.”
To forestall further queries along the lines of a Twitter commentator who asks about “technological neutrality”, the note points out that the SSC “has been mindful of paragraphs 16 and 19-21 of the Mandatory Rules. It considers that its requirement for an open source CMS is not contrary to either the letter or spirit of those paragraphs. None of those paragraphs prevents the Commission from opting for an open source as opposed to proprietary licensing model.”
Paragraph 16 of the Mandatory Rules, under the heading “non-discrimination”, says: “Departments must accord all potential suppliers equal opportunity and equitable treatment on the basis of their financial, technical and commercial capacity.”
Paragraph 19, under “technical specifications”, says: “Departments must not prepare, adopt or apply any technical specification with the purpose or effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade or domestic supply.” Succeeding paragraphs rule out citing a “particular trademark or trade name, patent, design or type, specific origin or producer or supplier” in procurement documents unless there is no other precise way of describing the requirements. In the latter case, it recommends adding the phrase “or equivalent”.
Despite the SSC’s explanations, misgivings continue to be expressed this week.
A prospective bidder on the SSC’s request for proposal (RFP) suggests that one reason given for the preference — open source will ease take-up of similar solutions by other public-sector agencies — conflicts with government guidelines on assignment of intellectual property rights in software created for public-sector contracts
These guidelines say they will “promote economic development by favouring ownership of new IPR being vested in the commercial sector, provided certain principles (such as national security) will not be compromised”.
“If ICT IP is generally best managed by the commercial sector,” asks the anonymous prospective bidder in a comment attached to the Request for Proposal on the government’s GETS procurement “how does this relate to the SSC redistributing code?”
The policy statement is a general one, says project manager Anna Chambers in a reply on GETS. “SSC has in the past redistributed code under a range of open source licenses, and reserves the right to continue to do so into the future.”
In reply to another query, she notes that the current RFP is not intended as an all-of-government request or an indicator of all-of-government policy on CMSs; it is aimed solely at meeting the SSC’s current requirements.
Where is the article bemoaning how biased this is?
Dept Internal Affairs recruiting a Microsoft evangelist (in their own words).
Between this glaring omission and the hilariously poorly researched Linux on the desktop article
(http://computerworld.co.nz/news.nsf/management/deskop-linux-is-still-not-happening). I beginning to think Computerworld is a pretty biased publication.
Help restore my faith in old media by doing some research and presenting both sides of the story.
Posted by Anonymous at 20:45:33 on May 25, 2010
(1) For public sites, it's the data that wants to be free, and as with all slow and stultifying paradigm shifts in New Zealand, now that enough NZ bureaucrats, consultants (former bureaucrats) and tech pundits (copy-and-pasters with Masters Degrees) have got stiff nipples about Open Government the sea change is lapping on our shores (and with it all the bile, guile, misunderstandings that have played out on foreign shores). Open data is not the same as open source necessarily. Though once you see enough of the horrific "write it in MS Word, standing on one foot and convert it to HTML" solutions that various middlemen for proprietary CMS vendors visited on the world through the 90s and first decade of this century in an attempt to deliver data agnosticism out of proprietary, arcane, encrypted, undocumented database models, there is an unfortunate correlation between the two.
(2) It's the license they care about, not the technology.
(3) They probably do have an agenda but with "they" being a group of more than 20 individuals battling with internal rivalries, inflated senses of self-worth and the various pyscho-pathologies endemic in the corporate careerist, its probably unconscious. What's new, move on.
Posted by Fo Shizzle Solutions Ltd at 17:29:34 on May 21, 2010
If they want an open source solution,then go ahead and write one in house, that what OSS is about. If they want to do a job, then don't specify the technology, just what is required to do the job, all solutuons shoukd be considered. This is in the interest of the public purse and also complies with the procurment guidelines. IMHO, of course...
Posted by DunedinMike at 1:38:04 on May 12, 2010
It is clear by not following govt purchsing guidelines that they have failed at A as well. RFPs should not use technical arguments to lock vendors out.
SSC have a history of being Super Pro Open Source even when this brings no benefit. Open Source in and of itself bino benefit to SSC. If they choose a decent CMS (Open Spurce or not) it should do what they need to do without changing the source code... Customisation yes, source code no.
SSC need to stop being zealots about this and look at things like TCO, skills availability, business need and long-term supportability of products rather than pushing a barrow.
Posted by Anonymous Hero at 17:16:53 on May 11, 2010
And yet they all seem to have iPhones, I guess that they must have made enough money from services they have charged on their open source solutions to afford to waste money on a frivolous, propriety solution that provides no value.
Open source may be the best solution for SSC, but how will they know if they don't evaluate all the options. NZTA had to withdraw a tender, because they only specified Microsoft technology, how is this different?
Posted by Anonymous at 13:39:18 on May 11, 2010
I note that Android phone marketshare recently surpassed that of iPhones in the US and has Blackberry in its sights.
Posted by Dave Lane at 15:01:31 on May 11, 2010
Posted by Anonymous at 15:58:17 on May 11, 2010
Microsoft and their ilk preclude themselves by insisting on providing a solution that would lock SSC in.
Posted by Yuri at 14:23:10 on May 11, 2010
And a services vendor changing source code to meet a clients need is best way of avoiding lock in to that services vendor? You are no longer able to easily use the open source solution unless you contract the open source community/company to add in your changes back into the software.
Posted by Anonymous at 16:26:39 on May 11, 2010
One is specifying a license and access to the source code - which Microsoft and other proprietary software champions may freely adopt at their leisure (and are adopting). There are NO barriers to eligibility whatsoever.
Specifying a particularly proprietary vendor's closed software ensures that the vendor in question will get the business. The barriers to eligibility are effectively infinite to anyone but the vendor.
Posted by Dave Lane at 14:19:39 on May 11, 2010