Future directions in information technology

An interview with Paul Hamilton, Senior IT Officer, Shire of Busselton Western Australia

With most council’s ICT budget fairly tight, Paul Hamilton believes open source software (OSS) is definitely the way of the future.

OSS is software that can be downloaded free of charge but more importantly comes with the actual programming code. This means users can use, change and improve the software to suit their needs, and redistribute it in modified or unmodified form.

Paul says the aim of OSS is to make products more understandable, modifiable, duplicatable, reliable and to an open standard. Moreover it is often developed in a public, collaborative manner, with many users contributing to its content.

“A further issue is that across Local Government, ICT staff are often doing the same things,” he said. “This means we are reinventing the wheel time and time again.”

Calling for increased collaboration and sharing of successes, Paul Hamilton sees many opportunities from maximizing the use of OSS. He believes this should not only involve Local Government but Federal and State Governments as well.

He advocates that the Federal Government department responsible for ICT should select a specific OSS platform and then mandate that over a number of years all levels of governments move over to this.

“For example, if all Local Governments moved to Open Office, then over the next ten to 15 years this would deliver massive savings,” he said.

“If you include all Federal and State bodies then there is an enormous potential to cut costs.”

Australia wouldn’t be the first to embark on a journey like this, as the Brazilian, Russian and Chinese Governments made similar announcements.

Programs are also under way in Munich, Amsterdam and Bristol, and the German Foreign Ministry has announced that it is migrating its 11,000 desktops and servers to Linux as well.

He said that some closed source advocates see OSS as damaging to commercial software companies. However, Paul Hamilton points to alternative approaches such as:

  • software vendors giving away their software and then charging for installation and support
  • vendors having their software available as open source so that people will be more likely to purchase a related product or service from that vendor.

“Vendors over just a few version updates should be able to convert their programs to run on the common platform,” Paul Hamilton said.

He said that as well as cost savings, other benefits include common documentation standards, training advantages and resource sharing.

In Western Australia a group of ICT staff has been meeting regularly to progress the use of OSS in Local Government.

“We are using OSS called FreeMind which provides a graphic way to plot information and ideas,” Paul Hamilton said.

Paul will attend an Open Source conference in the USA next October and plans to discuss this concept further at the Coffs Harbour IT2009 conference in November.