State, Local Governments To Leverage Open Source, Report Says

While the federal government encourages agencies to consider open source through software-procurement guidelines and such executive mandates as the eGovernment Act, local and state governments will more aggressively push adoption in the long run, turning to VARs to supply the skills needed to take full advantage.

No longer the taboo alternative, open-source technology is garnering more attention and consideration by states and local municipalities that want to save money and secure the availability of data, according to a recent study by Input, a Reston, Va.-based government research firm.

"If open-source software is really going to take the next major step forward, it's the government that will push it," says James Krouse, state and local market analysis manager at Input. "And state and local governments are proving more outspoken than the federal government, as they often are in more risky, cutting-edge technologies."

States--Massachusetts being the most vocal, Krouse says--have expressed concern about the ability to access files and data saved in proprietary formats that theoretically require a software license for access. Of course, arguments to the contrary exist in the IT sector, but those arguments don't seem to dissuade states from regarding open source as a viable option for enhancing data availability.

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In that sense, those in state and local government will act as catalysts for the adoption of open source, but they don't have the resources or skills to band together in an attempt to write open-source code. That spells opportunity for VARs who can, Krouse says, and a possible challenge for software providers.

"Here's the big rub," he says. "There won't necessarily be contractors out of work, but there may be product vendors with reduced workloads. The shining star at the end of the road for service companies--those with the high-level intelligence needed to develop code--could be significant opportunity."

That opportunity may come in bits and pieces, government by government, or perhaps through groupings of counties, states or regions. In June 2004, the Government Open Code Collaborative was created as the first cross-government jurisdictional venture, including more than 10 state and local agencies and offices. In turn, Microsoft rolled out a number of programs to provide government entities with access to Windows source code.

"This is going to be a slow growth cycle, and I can't predict what will act as the catalyst agent," Krouse says. "But these government consortiums are definitely getting a lot of attention. On the front end, they can start to iron some of the legal and regulatory barriers, and break down some of the jurisdictional walls for implementing open-source software."