Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You Want Open ICT? Burn The Boats (or RFPs)

When it comes to technology policies, governments should heed the words of Hernan Cortez … “Burn the boats.” Or, more specifically, burn the RFPs.

Procurement is the real measure of a government’s approach to technology. How “open” a government is toward ICT is not measured by whether or not it buys open source software, but how it procures technology. It's not what you buy, but how you buy it that counts most.

As governments are discovering – most recently in Australia and UK-- tweaking existing procurement policies to encourage more bidding by open source companies will not create more choices, even when specific open source companies are pre-qualified.

Procurement band aids will not lead to increased competitive bidding, ICT choices and access to innovation. Your old procurement rules, evaluation criteria and standard RFPs will not work. They will not level the playing field. They will not break vendor lock-in.

Why? Because conventional government RFPs are structured for big, proprietary vendors. They evaluate bidding companies based on criteria inappropriate for open technologies.

For example, public agencies still focus more on purchasing products, while open source solutions are more about services and support. RFPs often under-value interoperability, and instead focus on system specs and large product suites. Criteria such as minimum annual revenues and established user base disadvantage small companies and tend to proliferate vendor lock-in.

And let’s be honest, too many RFPs are rigged, written in order to buy a specific solution from a specific company with whom the procurement officers have long-standing relationships. Their objective is not best value-for-money, competitive bidding or technology neutrality, but buying a specific system already pre-determined.

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