Open source must co-op to win govt contracts

Cooperative approach best way for open source to compete with proprietary players.

Open source players will need to swap baggy jeans for suits if they want to secure lucrative enterprise and government contracts, experts say.

Google architect Grant Allen joined Labor Senator Kate Lundy and analyst Sam Higgins at Open Cebit 2008 to debate how the open source community can compete with software giants in a market geared to splurging millions on IT in return for SLAs and vendor liability.

The largest barrier to mainstream open source adoption is the entrenched ideals of proprietary software that business has come to expect, according to Higgins, research director at analyst firm Longhaus.

"It's very much the case that open source needs more of a [professional edge]," Higgins said.

"If a business puts out a $200,000 tender, it expects a $200,000 professional response because of a proprietary heritage. They expect to pay $200,000 up-front plus 20 percent maintenance over say seven years, so they want to be assured that the bidders are serious.

"There is a propensity by government and the [enterprise] to treat open source different. It needs to subject to the same market scans and RFOs."

To compete better, the open source community should form a cooperative, according to Higgins, which would respond to tenders with a catalogue of the best solutions covering the whole stack.

He said a cooperative will help market open source solutions in the same way that Dairy Farmers helped farmers to sell produce to cities.

Labor Senator for the ACT Kate Lundy said a cooperative will give open source a professional edge.

"A cooperative is a good idea because there are so many great open source solutions, but no one has the business experience to wrap it up in a slick package," Lundy said.

"[Enterprise] and big departments are used to slick packages. They have really high expectations for solutions which could be met by a cooperative, because it could bundle and present a whole stack of open source solutions.

"Businesses and agencies will be better off if they tested the market for open source products because there are solutions for the whole stack that can break open the entrenched opinions which mean they are often overlooked."

Lundy stopped short of naming an entrepreneur to head-up the cooperative, but said it would be someone who has a corporate image, charisma, and is prepared to take risks.

Google's Allen said developers can don a professional image without needing to drop their altruistic ideals of computer science, but should be more shrewd with marketing campaigns.

Higgins said 14 percent of businesses "are in denial", referring to a Longhaus survey which claimed that number of companies would not consider open source software.

He predicted open source will be a part of all proprietary software solutions within five years.

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