SSC backs exclusively open-source spec

Move alarms some in the IT industry

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”.

Update:

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.

Tags getsopen sourceState Services Commission

13 Comments

Isolated Penguin

1

Perhaps the biggest reason that the proprietary vendors, thought the government representatives, object so strongly to this request for a bid, is that it sets a very public president for saving money by insisting on the use of tools and formats that may hurt their chance for increased profits and lock in on future contracts.

Ard Righ

2

NZ Government wanting value for money with open source software? Shock horror!

Quick, someone call Bill English to complain the SSC is trying to save money, I am sure he'll be quite stunned, and want to know what this money-saving nonsense is all about.

Anonymous

3

I am continually amazed by the belief of the open source providers that open source is the only solution and must provide the best value for money.

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?

Jay Daley

4

To be clear, this is nothing to do with technology but solely to do with licensing and so any discussion on technology neutrality is a red herring.

There are plenty of similar decisions taken every day in RFPs:
- requiring access to code
- requiring code to be in escrow
- requiring all custom software to have the IP transferred to the buyer

So a business requirement to have full licensing of the code is entirely reasonable.

Anonymous

5


NZ Government Agencies are encouraged to assess open source software alternatives (where these exist) alongside commercial software, and should choose based on cost, functionality, interoperability, and security.

http://www.e.govt.nz/policy/open-source

Anonymous

6

Not matter what part of Government you work in, the focus is the same, conserve cost and deliver more outcomes. This is simply not achievable with the IT ecosystem currently in place.

We have recently completed a review with the largest maker of office products, and found they are about to increase cost by 5% per year for no added benefit except to meet their profit targets. For us this mean enriching this company at the expense of hip operations for the elderly and cancer treatment for children.

The TCO argument regarding OSS and propriety needs to be had and we need to find a solution. Much of the solution will be driven by economies of scale and installed base.

NZ can not afford the cost, both cash and the slowing of innovation, required to use products of US based monoliths. These monoliths was once the bringer of the sea change, however now it is they which we must change from

Joel Wiramu Pauling

7

I see no reason why this is a contentious issue, I would expect that this requirement be somewhat fundamental for development of ICT infrastructure tools being developed on tax-payer funded dollar, so as to ensure correct usage terms of deliverables occurs.

Copyright over systems and tools or of Data-sets and collateral developed as part of a Government contract should always be licenced to the Crown, the fact that the Crown would stipulate a FLOSS compatible licence over those contracted deliverables is of great benefit and fitting end for those dollars.

If a company bidding on a RFP wishes to impose some exclusive licence over their deliverables then they should be prepared not to be able to bid on government contracts in the first place. Strictly speaking their deliverables should be licenced to the Crown, and would have (in days of yore) be considered available under Crown Copyright, regardless of what the provider would like. Providing a FLOSS licence on top of the Crown Copyright simply lays down more defined use scenarios.

Simply put it makes sense for the Crown to define the terms a Licence Agreement in an RFP. And to even greater extend the things it would NOT like in a licence agreement. Obviously the people at SSC are clued on. If all agencies would include and take seriously EULA/Licence provisions as part of RFPs there would be a very different procurement process, not just in government but business wide.

Seriously would anyone in their right mind accept any of the Adobe/Microsoft or Apple EULA's should they actually read and consider the implications.? Let's not get into IDE/Frame and Development Environment concerns around the same.

Anonymous Hero

8

The real problem that I have with this is that the SSC is meant to be the bastion of (a) transparency and fairness in government and (b) setting standards for government departments in their use of IT. Although most of B has mercifully been stripped from them for doing a poor job, and given to DIA.

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.

Dave Lane

9

This is a superb development for the taxpayer of NZ and the domestic IT industry.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro

10

... but the user's data must still live on, and still be accessible, and not locked away in proprietary formats that nobody knows how to read any more. Demanding Open Source does not favour or disadvantage any vendor; it's just another technology, and since it's a technology that isn't controlled by any one vendor, anybody is free to adopt it and run with it.

DunedinMike

11

If you applied for a job and one of the conditions of getting it was that your DNA would be mapped into the company HR database and they would own it, would you take it? That's what is being asked for here; Give me your crown jewels and trust us! Really? Do they also ask for metallugy when buying trucks? I dont think so!

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...

Fo Shizzle Solutions Ltd

12

To casual observers... amongst all the handbag slapping in here between stuffed shirts there's really only three useful points to note.

(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 <i>necessarily</i>. 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 <i>do</i> 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.

Anonymous

13

Hey Computerworld,

Where is the article bemoaning how biased this is?
http://www.candleapps.com.au/CIA/JobTemplates/CandleICT-NZ.aspx?WebsiteID=3&JobID=36928

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.

-M

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