As part of its multi-pronged efforts to alleviate poverty with a pro-poor policy the Government is also harnessing the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) under the broader Information and Communication Technology thrust.
The Information and Communications Agency (ICTA) Managing Director and CEO Manju Hathotuwa outlined means of leveraging open source software (OSS) to implement the government`s ?pro-poor, pro-choice? strategy at the three day FOSS Education program `kicked off yesterday.
In a context where international pressure is mounting to enforce stricter legislations pertaining to intellectual property rights, Mr. Hathotuwa observed that it was critical to provide opportunities to use ?other viable alternatives? where it is ?right and appropriate?.
Stating the arguments for FOSS adoption in the public sector Mr. Hathotuwa noted that it provides the ?freedom to change & enhance at will,? which was critical for government`s who may have a short term focus where results need to be shown quickly.
The enhanced security, reliability, stability and localization capabilities where solutions can be easily adapted to suit the local context were the other key benefits.
From an economic angle the reduction in the total cost of ownership (TCO), achieving vendor independence and reducing the dependence on imported software, thus conserving foreign exchange were seen as the main benefits.
The increasing access to information & knowledge, which is a spin-off of these benefits is another attractor towards OSS.
However, the lack of variety of business applications, inadequacies in documentation training and help desk facilities and interoperability issues with proprietary software have deterred the adoption of FOSS in the public domain.
?Larger software giants bundle a lot more in terms of training and support that makes it very, very difficult to say no to them,? Mr. Hathotuwa added.
Highlighting a possible open source strategy for Sri Lanka Mr. Hathotuwa outlined certain potential steps to be taken by the government. This includes ?an official statement of recognition of the legitimacy of FOSS.?
?Since FOSS is new and unknown to most decision makers, official recognition and legitimacy has a strong promoting effect on FOSS adoption,? he stressed.
?Designation of a particular government agency to lead FOSS programmes,? was another proposal.
It was observed that a single body to coordinate communicate and execute a FOSS policy would ensure that it was properly implemented.
?Creating a level playing field in government procurement by specially ensuring that open standards and open protocols are used,? was another key priority in promoting the adoption of FOSS in the public sector.
According to Mr. Hathotuwa ?making the government understand that FOSS has a social value,? was also seen as imperative to increase its take-up, specially among non-it savvy decision makers. ?Some policies focus too much on the financial benefits of FOSS and leave out benefits such as capacity building, transparency in government and greater citizen access,? Mr. Hathotuwa added.
Creating a sustainable value chain by inculcating a FOSS culture in schools and academia was also highlighted as a critical success factor to utilise open source software to take ICT to the grassroots.
He also invited the Sri Lankan open source community to showcase effective, proven e-government applications and other solutions at the e-government centre for excellence, housed at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA).