Technology Trends: Open Source
This is section 3.1.2 of a series of blog entries creating a Government IFMIS Technology Evaluation Guide. This includes information to assist in evaluating IFMIS options and the technology requirements for FreeBalance IFMIS implementations. These series will be combined with feedback to produce a comprehensive Technology Evaluation Guide to be published on our web site.
Risk or Opportunity?
Should governments adopt open source software? Critics of open source are quick to point out faults, risks and long-term costs. Advocates of open source point out acquisition cost and flexibility advantages.
Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is effective in many circumstances. The results are clear:
- The proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle Corporation was driven by the open source Java and MySQL products.
- Governments around the world have mandated the use of open source software.
- Open source software has proven effective in military applications.
Where should open source be considered?
There are advantages for open source and commercial software. A clear pattern has emerged. Open source software should be considered for middleware – databases, application servers, operating systems etc. Many open source products are category leaders like Apache, Java, and Eclipse.
Open source software can be more difficult to integrate than commercial equivalents. But open source provides more flexibility including access to source code.
Many open source products come at a cost to get advanced features or customer support. Those costs tend to be less expense that the fully commercial equivalent.
Open Source financial applications
Open source software has not been proven effective for financial applications. Some vendors are extending base functionality but there remains a lot of work to create robust and effective open source financial applications for government.
Companies that specialize in specific markets, such as public financial management, are able to leverage robust middleware to create robust applications. Government customers have the choice of implementing these solutions on commercial or open source platforms. And, the cost avoided by the vendor results in a lower cost to the government.
Why discuss open source software for public financial management?
Acquiring software to support line ministries or sub-national governments can be expensive. Most software licensing has been designed based on the economics in developed countries. Fair and effective pricing is required for emerging country governments. Open source provides a vehicle to make implementation and maintenance prices sustainable by the government.
We may find effective government financial management software in the open source community in the future. Governments need to evaluate implementation and support needs. Commercial and open source vendors need to provide affordable options for this.
FreeBalance and open source
FreeBalance provides Commercial Off-the-Shelf software (COTS) that is built using open source components. These applications are deployed on Java Enterprise Edition. Customers are able to leverage open source operating systems, databases, application and web servers.
The cost for FreeBalance software in emerging countries is calculated based on value and the economic context of the country. This model is designed for government affordability because it uses metrics that are typically not used in software costs.