PUNE, INDIA:Can Open Source Software bridge the gap between bureaucracies and citizens to form a truly participatory democracy? More importantly, is the government listening? Asks Gautam Rege, Founder Director, Josh Software, one of India’s leading Ruby on Rails web application development company.
The UK Government recently made a landmark decision to switch to open software software after years of ‘oligopoly’ of few traditional IT suppliers including behemoths like Microsoft. It estimates savings of tens of millions of pounds solely from moving to open document formats. Apart from the US and UK governments, over the past 12 months, countries like Australia, Netherlands, Ecuador, France, Portugal, Germany, Spain have taken good steps towards open source governance. While its coincidental that these nations are also represented at the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil, this takes up the count of countries which have laid foundations for the adoption of open source to about 40.
Which brings us to the big question, where does India stand when it comes to open source adoption? In the current election scenario, the phrase ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ has been positioned as the new hope for the country in its push towards regaining some of the lost momentum of the last decade. In the latest budget, the Finance Minister has opened the door for adoption of open source platforms by mandating that all ministries and departments have to be interlinked in the coming few months. This seems as good a time as any to adopt e-governance strategies which will deliver platforms for the citizens to interact, participate and play their role in shaping the future of this country. This is the reason why the government should view open source as the next evolution, almost like a political ally in their bid to connect with the masses once again.
The Indian Department of Information Technology (DIT) made landmark progress way back in 2010 by approving open source policies, despite pressure from proprietary software companies. A large part of the credit goes to the open source community, Civil Society Organizations and the academia for maintaining the momentum in support of open source. A large part of the said $10 billion e-governance budget was always going to utilized for large and populist projects like the UID project but for the first time, we find ourselves in a development environment to boost adoption of open source software.
There are a couple of reasons mainly to support this argument. First and foremost, demand for Government transparency is at an all time high. There is a strong undercurrent to empower people with information, tools and means to ensure quick dispensation of civic duties. Accountability standards are ever increasing and the new government has to take cognizance of this fact. Open source platforms allow for quick customized solutions to be deployed, refined and scaled at great speeds at a fraction of the cost. This is the cue state governments might also consider strongly in a bid to set a better national example. Imagine logging onto a mobile app do lodge a road service request for your community roads, as well as for other essential civic amenities like water and electricity.
Most of the traditional governance machinery has already been made available online; a good example being filing of tax returns is now an online task. Why not expand these limits to include other vital aspects of governance also? Germany already has multiple cities completely standardized on open source and citizen satisfaction levels are at an all time high. Increased productivity, sovereignty by allowing governments to do its job better and tremendous cost savings are a common theme from most open source government projects across the world.
Coming to the second point in our argument, open source leads to huge cost savings. In a country like ours, while a burgeoning population brings its advantages of a huge army of skilled professionals, more often than not, it results in available resources being stretched thin. Consider this, the governments of Kerala, The Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and the New India Assurance Company, collectively have saved an estimated $35 million by simply switching to free and open source software (FoSS). Opensource.com, a leading authority and observer on the state of open source globally, estimates that there is a nationwide savings potential of $1.8 billion or about 10,000 crore rupees through open source adoption. What was the combined election advertising budget of all political parties combined again?
Of course, the open source community in India has a big role to play to actually make this dream see the light of day. India is emerging as one of the global hotspots for outsourcing projects based on emerging open source platforms like Ruby on Rails, for example. The simplicity of its syntax, lightning quick development speed, strong and committed global community eager to help make you successful and its flexibility and scalability have made Ruby on Rails a popular choice by businesses all over the world to deploy web based applications across industries.
Moreover, Ruby on Rails has consistently proved over time that it is an ideal choice to migrate older systems without disrupting existing processes and almost zero downtime. Now these are serious qualities which government IT departments have to consider while thinking of system upgrades and facelifts. While the talent available in our country for platforms like Ruby on rails could use definite expansion, if there is one thing the open source community is good at, is collaboration. This ensures that it is possible to develop and support huge civic projects.
In conclusion, we seem to be on the cusp of the open source revolution in governance in India with the stage set for the government to deliver on its promise for good governance, open and transparent civic processes and bridging the gap between bureaucracies and citizens. This is when customer relationship management truly transforms to citizen relationship management in India.
(The author is co-founder and managing director, Josh Software, Pune based software Development Company)