eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

India: Why doesn’t government embrace open source?

Posted by egovindia on June 21, 2006

Though use of open source is an integral part of any e-governance project report, it fails to move beyond. In the end, proprietary software and environment win thumbs-up in bagging the projects.

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-1562010,curpg-1.cms

PANKAJ SHARMA

[ THURSDAY, MAY 25, 2006 12:00:00 AM]

While it may be true that issues such as ownership and after-sales support might be an issue in migrating to an open environment, neutrality offers certain inherent benefits, which can’t be offered by its proprietary counterpart.

In a country like India, we only have limited pockets of growth where technology has made an impact. Infrastructure and knowledge are a challenge for the masses and what is needed is a smart system where we can get maximum while spending minimum. The core logic here is penny saved is penny earned.

The other important issue is that of interoperability, which would not only result in a big saving but also provide a ubiquitous delivery of government services. In such a scenario, an open environment can really be a good option to migrate to.

We need to adopt an out-of-the-box approach towards technology neutrality. We have to propagate it and create a futuristic vision for it. The issue also has its roots in certain other things which might not be apparent in a bird’s eye view. But surely the solutions mentioned below can be helpful in providing a good breeding ground for promotion of technology neutrality.

 Creating an IT-enabled workforce

Our greatest lacuna is a poor education system where technology education doesn’t form part of the core curriculum. This has resulted in a digital divide not just between the rural and urban population but even among the urban.

Thanks to this divide, information technology is viewed as an something difficult. An IT-savvy system would ensure that students have a positive attitude towards technology.

Education on open source

As a first step, we need to integrate technology neutral IT education in our education policy. ‘Catch them young’ holds true in creating a society which could accept technology neutrality with open arms.

Though most schools in urban areas and some in rural areas do claim to offer computer education, they are unaware of neutrality and thus end up imparting IT education on a proprietary platform which, over certain time, becomes a habit and convenience.
Teaching in a neutral environment should surely be considered in order to develop the requisite skill set to work in an open environment.

Even in higher education, there should be certain specialised courses and curriculum targeted towards gearing the students towards open source.

Going a step further, the existing and new staff in government domain should be imparted hands-on experience on technology-neutral platforms and tools.

A PPP for open source

There lies a great opportunity in the open source domain which can be tapped by the private sector in terms of better product rollouts. For government sector, the opportunity is in the form of having a low-cost ownership and maintenance.

Efforts should be made to provide special benefits to the players rolling out products on technology-neutral platform for government use. This can be a good rider to promote the entrepreneurial zeal in this domain.

Collaborations between the private sector and the government sector should be promoted in order to roll out applications and programs on open source.

Firm policies

At present, there are no firm policies which make use of technology neutrality a mandatory criterion in government projects. This has resulted in a state of confusion among various government agencies, which ultimately prefer proprietary application.

A lack of clarity and capacity by the implementing agencies is often quoted as reason for this preference but we should understand that this is a classic chicken-and-egg situation — we can’t have capacity until we are hands-on with something and we can’t have a hands-on experience until we have the capacity.

But we need to make a start and now is the moment for using open technologies in a government environment as we are still in nascent stage and a correct action at this point would ensure that we don’t commit a mistake.

Last but not the least, we need to move beyond the myopic view that technology neutrality is a utopian yet an unachievable situation and that technology neutral applications and environment are nobody’s baby.

These factors are more of an opportunity than a challenge for the government which can actually use it to its advantage in not just rationalising the cost of ownership issues to a realistic level but also build customised options for its use.

We should also understand is that it might not be practically possible to change things overnight but if there is a time to start surely this is the best time.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

The author is a senior consultant with the national e-governance programme, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology.

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