Managing Content and Cost: Government Agencies Opening Up to Open Source

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Cost-cutting and operational efficiencies are requirements in most industries, regardless of economic conditions. Yet, given constant budget constraints and taxpayer push back, there are arguably few sectors that have quite as strong a mandate for the implementation of such initiatives as in the government sector.

However, neither companies nor government bodies can run so lean that work can't get done. Additionally, infrastructure such as content management systems must be kept up-to-date
to handle a growing vast amount of content. Government entities certainly don't lack content that needs managing. With so many pages of web content necessary to provide their constituents with all of the information they need, government agencies require a system that can easily manage the flow of immense content generated by a variety of bureaus and departments.

Then, there's also a branding issue of sorts that these government entities must be capable of addressing when the time comes. When public sector companies choose to rebrand themselves because of a new product release or service focus, such a shift will oftentimes require some level of redesign of their websites. This task can be much greater for government websites, which typically need a complete rebranding effort with every new change to the administration.

Thus, the government sector finds itself pinched between two pressure points: the public's demand for content access and up-to-date information and that same public's demand for costs to be kept down.

Enter Open Source
As a result of these technological and economic requirements, open source technology-which allows source code to be publicly available-has quietly become the solution of choice for government entities at the national, state, and local level.

"Until recently, most non-IT types within the government simply didn't know what was running behind the scenes," says John Weathersby, executive director of the Open Source Software Institute (OSSI). "In many documented cases, open source solutions were quietly plugging away, filling gaps and serving as mission critical components for a wide variety of systems."

Such initiatives and the push to widen these solutions' use and appeal have combined to bring more attention to open source as an ideal solution for the government sector. Organizations such as the OSSI are working to expand that userbase even more. The main goal of the OSSI, which was founded in 2001, is to promote the adoption and implementation of open source software solutions within the U.S.-in federal, state, and municipal agencies, says Weathersby. He says much of the focus the past 10 years has been on adoption within the defense and homeland security agencies. OSSI also helped to create Open Source for America (OSFA) a couple of years ago with the mission to promote open source adoption throughout the government sector.

Of course, technology vendors are also contributing to the movement toward open source. Terry Erisman is director of marketing for DotNetNuke, a company that provides a web content management platform for Microsoft.NET. He says that the company sees the government sector as an emerging market; it currently serves customers in federal, state, and local governments in the U.S. and also has government customers overseas. He says that some of the main reasons government entities turn to open source solutions include the low cost and the ability to eliminate the need for additional IT support, which is also crucial since many don't have the luxury of large IT departments.

"Today, open source is being recognized for its benefits of technical efficiency, security and program manageability, as well as potential cost savings," explains Weathersby. "The increased exposure of open source is encouraging government IT decision makers to ask, if not require, that an open source option at least be considered as part of new systems or upgrades."

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