Posts Tagged ‘election’

Open source in government is not important

Labour’s “ICT” policy includes a statement on “Open software” in government, part of which is attempting to get two thirds of government agencies to use some sort of open-source software by 2015.  This is basically what you expect from politicians when talking about “ICT” (or nearly anything, unfortunately) – they jump on whatever bandwagon/buzzwords are popular without any understanding of what should be done.

Firstly, I would be shocked if more than two thirds of government agencies were not already using some form of open-source software already.  For a start, it’s nearly impossible to use the Internet without accessing something running Linux or Apache.

More importantly, it makes no sense at all to aim for governments to be using more open-source software.  They should be using the software most suited to the job at hand, whether closed source or open source.  What benefit is there in requiring open source?  If they think it’s cheaper, then they should look more closely, because it’s often not.  The same applies to being more secure.  There are absolutely situations where the best choice is an open-source one – but there are absolutely situations where closed source is better.  I don’t want government employees forced to use less than the best tools because of some ideological burden placed on them by someone wanting a cushy job for the next three years.

They have a few other requirements:

Software developed in-house will be made publicly available.  A nice idea, but (a) I’m fairly sure that most of the in-house software is of no use to anyone else, (b) I suspect most of the software you’d assume was in-house was actually developed by non-government contractors, and, most significantly, (c) not all code is ready to be shared.  If a government sysadmin writes a quick script to do a job, do we really want to add the pressure that it will be publicly available (and given that it’s the government, it’s reasonable to assume that someone will be looking at everything).  As long as the software does the job, that’s good enough (in the “in-house” context).  What would be worthwhile is ensuring that government agencies consider whether software should be released to the public – I’m sure that there is some that would be of general interest and where the quality is suitably high.

Agencies considering technology purchases over $2 million would first evaluate whether publicly available technology would substantially meet their requirements.

Ugh.  A technology purchase over $100 should involve consideration of whether there was an existing public tool that could do the job – this should always be the case, not just for obscenely costly jobs.

Labour would also create a government “app store” to provide “a short circuit for fledgling NZ software developers to get to market” which would allow local developers to submit software for purchase by government agencies. Labour promises to ensure “informed neutrality” in software purchasing with due consideration of open-source software.

I really don’t understand what this is trying to achieve.  There’s no indication that local developers would be preferred (only, with no reasoning, open-source software), so how does this help local developers?  This sounds like a way to spend a lot of money for very little gain.

What they are missing are the most important “open”s: open standards (and open formats) and open data.

Governments should only be using software that produces and accepts files that are in formats that are open standards (this includes Microsoft Office documents).  We do have a “New Zealand official interoperability framework definition” already, but it could be significantly expanded on (see what other governments require, for example).  Everything the government produces should be in some sort of open format and everywhere the government accepts data at least one open format should be accepted.  Open standards apply to other areas too, but open formats is the key in “ICT”.

We have a limited commitment to open data already (see data.govt.nz).  This should be significantly expanded on – every data set that the government creates (and there are a huge number of these) should be publicly available, so that (a) we have transparency, and (b) other researchers can benefit from the data.  The only limitation is privacy – unfortunately even when a data set appears to be anonymous it is often possible to identify individuals – it would be worth spending money on figuring out how to get past this so that we can share just about everything without breaching individual people’s privacy.

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Time for change, indeed

At last, after nine years, we have the change of government we need.  I think the most telling part of the results is that the winners are the parties that are willing to work with others.  The Maori party will work with Labour if that’s what gets their policies advanced, but their leaders (and the constituents will eventually catch up) understand that they can advance under National as well.  United Future, setting in the centre, can obviously work with anyone.  ACT, even though they are not in the centre, will work with National, but also with other parties (e.g. they agree with the Maori party on many issues).  National, obviously, is willing to put all of these pieces together and get something that is hopefully stronger than the individual parts.

I think the TV3 commentators were wrong when they said that ACT had no power being on the right, since National has the Maori party on the centre.  The Greens had a significant influence on Labour, even though they are less centre.  ACT will be no different, and have their 5-seat influence.

The Greens show up as the real losers.  They ended up with more seats, but no power.  If they were willing to work with National, like the Maori party are, then they could get things achieved, and appear more magnanimous as well.  I really hope that some day the Green party wakes up and realises that caring about environmental issues is not a left or right issue, and straddles both.  National and ACT would do positive things for sustainability & general environment issues by actually getting something done.  Why is that so much worse than Labour doing positive things by doing a great deal of talking and planning?  Why should one’s position in the debate over climate change have anything to do with whether you care about the environment or not?

The other thing that the TV3 commentators got wrong was Clark’s speech – she wasn’t that gracious.  She pointedly attacked the National policies.  If she was gracious, she could have said something like “I hope that when we come back in 2011 National have managed to safeguard all of the improvements we have made over the last nine years”.  Polite about National, but not praising them (just “safeguard”, not improve in any way), but not attacking either, and still putting in the note about the ‘achievements’ that Labour has managed.  Key was a much more gracious winner than Clark a gracious loser.

It’s not the result that I was hoping for, but I do hope that Key manages to do a good job, and the meme that I certainly agree with is that this is how democracy works.  Although I’m on one end of the new government’s policies, I respect that there are others who are on the other side and we can achieve greatness together.  Certainly if Key succeeds (with the Maori party included), then Labour is in a very tight position for 2011 (no NZ First, maybe no United Future, no guarantee of Maori party support, maybe no Progressives, no clear leader yet).

If the Maori party are included (and I hope they are), then it’s the first real MMP government (in my opinion), too – with four parties (National, ACT, United, Maori) working together for real progress.  Hopefully National and Labour will both continue to decrease in numbers, and we’ll have a real multi-party government one day.

I wonder if house prices in Australia just dropped 😉