I participate in an online community that discusses open source technology and solutions related to the US Federal government and the Department of Defense. Recently there was a post about saving money in the DoD and Federal government by replacing desktops with some flavor of Linux. This discussion has me thinking about the challenges the government faces in saving money simply from the technical perspective.
I have had this discussion with a lot of people though the years. A little truth in history, I think I started my career on the wrong side of the discussion (just change stuff). When you are a Technologist or even an Analyst, you may wonder why we as a people, a corporation or other body make stupid decisions. A lot of the time solutions are right in front of us and we don’t employ them. One example of this is using open source technology in the DoD to save money.
Let’s look at this from a few different perspectives to understand what people are thinking in context of this problem / solution.
Open source technology doesn’t have any client access licenses tied to it. It doesn’t have reoccurring license fees and product costs. You don’t have to pay for maintenance if you don’t want to. This can free up money to invest in people. You could actually hire more people and you could get more customized solutions. Think about all the money you can save!
How much will open source cost? What are the fees involved with maintenance? How much will it cost to transition all of the systems? How much will it cost to deploy the systems? How much will it cost to train all of the infrastructure people? If we are trading licenses for people, aren’t people more expensive? If we turn to open source aren’t we just trading one problem for another? How do we get all of the organizations to agree to transition? What do we do about operation, IT, and business process governance? What do we do about legacy applications that won’t easily transfer over? How will this impact the enterprise? (etc)
I have to make a decision, where is a trade-off analysis? I may not have the needed authority to make a decision like this, what does our CIO say? How will the changes I make affect the operator? Who and what policy and standards should I adhere to? What if I am a Program of Record, how will this impact my funding? What if because I am a Program I can’t change the configuration of my system? HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST?
Operator / User:
I have a job to do, I do my job well but I need my tools. If you enable me to do my job by providing me consistent behavior with respect to my current capabilities and enhancements that are consistent with my training for my future capabilities, I will work hard. Don’t mess with things that work. Don’t make me learn a lot of new things at one time. Don’t give me less than I have. Don’t change my process. Don’t interfere with my job, you have no idea how important my work is. Be available when I need you.
I could go on about this but the bottom line is that from a Technologist perspective (one that I know well), when you are holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Unfortunately, things are much more complicated than that in our world. The reason why small teams work well is because they can change and adapt quickly. The way that the government is structured, it takes time to drive change unless the change is driven by “the operator” or the people themselves. In other words, if everyone in the DoD or Federal space decided to go open source at home and in their personal lives, that would change the demand and quickly change the requirements. Look to mobile devices as an example of that . That isn’t what is happening in the world concerning Linux and other open source software.
The world evolves and changes happen in small but effective increments. The government is already saving billions in licensing fees by using open source technologies on the backend services (Apache Tomcat, Linux etc). We need to look at our success and find the bright spots, what worked where and why. We need to seek out and discover where we have created efficiencies by using open source technologies and we then need to duplicate those efforts. Finally, we need to seek out ways to discuss this with mid-level leadership (not senior leaders), senior guys already “get it” it is the person in the middle that feels their voice is unheard and they hold on to any speck of ownership that they can.
If you disagree, let me know. If you agree, do something about it. I am.