Digital transformation using open source software

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Above: Saranjit Arora.

BitDepth#1338 for January 24, 2022

A stated pillar of the Department of Digital Transformation a year after its inception is a commitment to working with local developers and using Open Source Software (OSS) to develop solutions for TT’s digitization effort.

Saranjit Arora, visiting Trinidad in December, agreed to answer some questions on how Trinidad and Tobago’s national effort might be managed.

Listen to Mark read this column.

Arora is the founder of milandigital.eu and for the past four years he has been an external consultant to the European Commission.

By agreeing to answer my questions, he went out of his way to ensure that I understood that he was speaking in his capacity as a developer and open source advocate and not as an EU representative.

Arora explained that open source software is everywhere, including in the most popular devices, from washing machines to smartphones.

“It’s impossible to have a digital solution without open source,” Arora said.

“I don’t know the precise balance between proprietary and open source, but it wouldn’t surprise me if many countries are already in the ‘over 50% open source’ camp.”

What exactly is OSS? It is software released under a license that grants users the right to collaboratively use, modify, and distribute the code.

Altered open source code is described as forked and is added to the distribution database for further investigation and adjustment.

Because anyone can use the code or inspect it, OSS enjoys a high level of trust in developer communities. Free software created using open source is called FOSS.

After facing rising prices for Microsoft products, CERN turned to FOSS software for its administration, creating tthe MALT project, which examines and certifies the options that can be hosted on its server.

While lower cost is sometimes cited as a reason to consider open source solutions, Arora notes that there are other value propositions, including: the ability to distribute and deploy anywhere.

While agreeing that issues of technical data sovereignty could encourage governments to prefer local data centers, Arora notes that there is no need to build software solutions from scratch.

“Major home building programs suffer from the failures typical of major projects,” Arora said.

“It makes great sense to use and modify (mostly by localizing) existing open source applications.”

“I’m also sure that public administrations in Europe at least would be very helpful in this regard to T&T.”

the EU Open Source Observatory gathers news on governance projects and software under development. The European Public Service has created a catalog of free and open source software resources for governance here.

There might be a need to retrain developers in open source skills, but local resources and local talent could, he said, provide jobs as well as improved human resources.

When it comes to deployment, Arora believes that five years is a minimum commitment for real change to become apparent, but for the fruits at hand, improvements can be seen in as little as one to two years. with political support and a strong government mandate. .

Government, he warned, should appoint appropriate personnel to leadership roles, create systems that resist institutional inertia, remain alert to efforts to sow doubt by vendors of proprietary solutions, and create communications effective internal and external to articulate a strong and widely understood strategy and strategy. goals.

“I would strongly recommend creating a combined high-level steering group on digital transformation and open source to look at strategic issues,” Arora said.

“You would also need an operational center of excellence (for) such an open-source program office, which can also be combined with a digital mission.”

“I would also recommend 1-2 representatives from other governments or the EU, as well as an external open source person who has such knowledge.”

“This setup will allow the government to get advice on best practices, but also to be connected to Europe and possibly to get funding and grants, and also to reuse what is already available.”

Saranjit Arora’s checklist for digital transformation of open source-based governance.

  • Talk to other governments, look at what they’ve done, and reuse software, not build.
  • Be committed to open source for the long term, because it’s a real, solid option that only gets better with time. Look at Europe and talk to us there.
  • There will be resistance from proprietary vendors and members of government who support proprietary solutions.
  • Communication and understanding are important. Adopting an open source strategy does not mean abandoning all proprietary systems and replacing them with open source versions.
  • An OSS strategy means, among other things, that we will positively evaluate and prioritize open source solutions, over proprietary solutions. The EU has just adopted an OSS strategy in 2020, and this is after 20 years.
  • It will be a gradual process and the government will need guidance. Much of this is available in the UK and Europe and the EU will help for sure.
  • Take a holistic view – the government is not alone, alongside this strategy you can build open source skills in the community. The business community will also benefit from its interactions with government.
  • Proprietary vendors have a role to play in any government’s IT. We don’t see a 100% open source government, but a government with a largely open source mix.
  • Open source is also a philosophy, not just software. It’s about sharing and reusing, adopting an open source mindset.

KPMG report on the use of free software in governance.

Citation: European Commission, Directorate-General for Informatics, (2020). Study on Free Software Governance at the European Commission, Publications Office. https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2799/755940.

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