Mr Paulwell, we cannot afford to be left behind

Mr Paulwell, we cannot afford to be left behind


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

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Dear Minister of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining Phillip Paulwell:

As a technology user and enthusiast, I believe in the critical role of open-source software to create the applications and infrastructure necessary to support government-funded technology projects. There is an accelerating interest in and use of open-source software worldwide. Local governments are changing. Forward-thinking municipalities are embracing technology to make countries and cities better for everyone. Innovative government staff are sharing resources, best practices, and collaborating on common problems. Jamaica needs to provide a broad range of resources, programmes and services to support and advance civic innovation.

As open-source software becomes the leading information technology day by day, and there are open-source alternatives to most of the commercial software, Jamaica must join this technological revolution, as the national pledge does state, " that Jamaica may play her part in the advancement of the whole human race".

Open-source software is computer software with its source code made available with a licence in which the copyright holder supplies the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any reason or function. Open-source software is oftentimes developed in a public, collaborative manner. It is the most striking example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open-content movements.

During the past year, major tech brands such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft have adopted a more open-source philosophy, evident in their latest software releases. Similarly, more large companies are utilising open-source solutions alongside proprietary software to tap into open source's diverse, creative, cooperative community of developers, thought-leaders, and users.

Open-source software has already resulted in dramatic cost reductions in many technology areas, including:

* application hosting and infrastructure, thanks to open-source operating systems, application servers, and other products like Linux, Apache, Tomcat, and others;

* application development and deployment, thanks to tools like Eclipse, Ruby on Rails, subversion, and many, many others; and

* communication and collaboration, thanks to open-source applications such as OpenOffice and WordPress.

A report by the Standish Group (from 2008) states that adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers. While, in Germany, 10 years after the decision to switch an open-source policy -- dubbed the LiMux project -- it will now go into regular operation, the Munich City council said in a document published on its website. As of November last year, the city saved more than ¤11.7 million (US$16.1 million) because of the switch.

In an era where we seek financial solutions in this disrupted global economy, it's a very easy decision to make if you look at open-source technology from a financial standpoint. Developing with open source as a foundation also cuts licensing fees out of the cost structure entirely, and open-source projects tend to evolve more quickly than traditional software. Hence, if we are to join the world in the future, we must start today with open source technology. It is already on our smartphones, and in so much of the new technology we import, it is a part of Brazil's leap forward in technology; we cannot afford to be left behind.

Nations will be judged on what they build, not what they destroy. Building high-quality software, at much lower costs, through collaboration will be a catalyst for good work between software developers in the IT industry and subject matter experts, like doctors, nurses, engineers, and technicians in the public sector, as well as artists and artisans in the creative industries.

Open-source software brings transparency to software development. There are no "black boxes" in open-source software, and therefore no need to guess what is going on "behind the scenes". Ultimately, this means a better product for everyone, because there is visibility at every level of the application, from the user interface to the data implementation. Furthermore, open-source software provides for platform independence, which makes quick deployments that benefit our citizens much easier and realistic. For these reasons, I urge you to make it mandatory to consider the source of an application solution (open or closed) as part of the Government's technology acquisition process.

I believe the open-source industry is changing the world of software development in many ways. The values of open source mirror those we would want promoted in our society: change, and openness. I, sincerely hope that you will make the use of open-source software a key component of every new technology initiative the Jamaican Government enters into in the future.

Open-source software is really just the tip of the iceberg in changing the way the Government works. I would encourage you to find ways for states and agencies to collaborate together on solutions that ultimately are better than the sum of all the individual efforts combined, and at much lower cost to each participant. Open-source software encourages this type of collaboration by making the results of previous successful efforts available to others with similar goals and needs.

We, as a people, have begun to appreciate the role of science and technological innovation as part of Jamaica's larger vision of development, and so I close by imploring you to examine the possibilities, open the debate on the subject, put it out there in the public domain. Let us explore it and try to foster it.

Yannick Nesta Pessoa is a writer, artist and entrepreneur. Send comments to:

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