With open source software running core parts of its internal IT systems for at least five years, the NSW Office of State Revenue is no tenderfoot when it comes to open alternatives. CIO David Kennedy recently spoke to CIO to reflect on the challenges and achievements the government agency has had with open source technology and to offer advice to other CIOs on how to develop a successful open source strategy.
Kennedy says open source technology is here to stay and the real challenge facing CIOs lies in delivering services around them.
“Not all open source coders are fanatics,” Kennedy says. “Open source is worth considering because if it fits the purpose in the whole ‘value-for-money’ equation, entertain the idea. Look at Web servers -- Apache is ahead and so too is Firefox with Web browsers.”
The OSR is one of the principal revenue collection agencies of the NSW government and processes about $15 billion a year in taxes. According to Kennedy, a focus on modernising the agency’s core systems from proprietary platforms to Java-based, Web-enabled systems has given rise to an open-framed environment, from backend to front end, using a mixture of Windows and Linux. Much of OSR’s backend infrastructure currently runs on Linux, and a great deal of development work has been done on the “open” infrastructure.
“Everyone thinks open source is free but nothing is ever free,” Kennedy says. “We apply the same rigour to open source that we do to commercial products.”
Kennedy strategy is to evaluate the merit of all software on its capability to address a business need, as well as its cost, regardless of whether it is open source or proprietary. For example, OSR’s enterprise service bus (ESB) was built on open source, but when the agency went looking for a product it investigated an offering from Cognos as well as open source alternatives.
“Our core focus is to move from being a technology provider to being a service provider,” Kennedy says. “We will do what is best and open source is high as a strategic direction, as is virtualization. [Open source] should be treated as no differently, but not ignored.” The OSR’s information management strategy has three pillars -- simplification, rationalisation and modernisation – and Kennedy claims that open source software has become a key enablement technology in maintaining that strategic approach.
While the OSR’s official open source strategy has been in place for some time, there are indicators that suggest adoption was driven by activity at the coalface as much as it was a top-down directive. Some five years ago, NSW OSR’s then-CIO Mike Kennedy told <i>Computerworld</i> the agency was using commodity hardware running Linux, which it has continued to do ever since. At first Debian GNU/Linux was used, but in 2002 the system was migrated to the commercially-supported Red Hat Enterprise. This makes the OSR a very early adopter for an organisation of its size and complexity.