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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Technology Neutral ≠ Open Source Inaction

Memo to governments: technology-neutral policies on procurement do not mean that governments should do nothing about open source. While governments like Malaysia are neutralizing formal preferences (or mandates) for open source, they should not become passive about procurement or competition within the ICT market.

Technology neutrality is not a natural state, for governments or anyone else. People have preferences, even if policies on paper do not. Removing a sentence from an Open Source Master Plan, as Malaysia has done, does not magically level the playing field in ICT procurement. Neither does an open source preference for that matter. Procurement trumps policy every time.

To establish a truly neutral and competitive procurement environment, governments need to focus on 2 things: (1) setting clear objectives; and (2) burning your old, standard RFPs.

For step 1, Malaysia has it right. Its OSS Framwork sets the right targets: increase software choices and interoperability, reduce total costs of ownership and vendor lock-in, and ensure security.

Step 2 -- changing how procurement is actually done -- is much harder. It requires both changing rules and how people act. Tweaking your procurement policies will not work because you cannot "tweak" people's behavior. More dramatic action is needed.

Three actions can help drive changes in procurement practices and behavior. First, issue new standard RFP provisions that show agencies what neutral language looks like. Second, establish new criteria for bid evaluation that takes proper account of how open source works in the market. Lastly, find a way to make agency interactions with vendors more transparent. Too often, procurement decisions are made behind closed doors before an RFP is even issued. That is not a formula for value for money.

Categories: open, source, procurement, Malaysia, government

3 comments:

openmalaysiablog said...

A response in Malaysia: "Position Statement on Software Neutrality and Openness -- http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2006/12/position_statem.html

openmalaysiablog said...

A response in Malaysia: "Position Statement on Software Neutrality and Openness" from MOSSA (Malaysia Open Source Software Alliance) - http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2006/12/position_statem.html

Jeff Kaplan said...

Thanks for the additional information on Malaysia's position regarding software neutrality. It is important, as you have done, to add much greater specificity to "neutrality" to make it executable and relevant to how procurement actually works.