Would Gov’t Procurement Process Neglect FOSS?

The Canadian Association for Open Source (Clue) published a thought provoking letter to an ITBusiness.ca article today. The Clue letter says that “…What is needed is for the government to separate the pricing and procurement of the source product from the various value-add services…” which is an interesting reflection for current musings about Public Works and Government Services Canada’s proposed potential changes to government procurement processes. It’s certainly feasible to evaluate these separate areas in a sophisticated way that still allows for a comprehensive decision.

The point here is that with Free and open source software, frequently one is at a loss trying to get a development community to respond to particular business issues when the issues are peripheral to the development of the software. The reason is not because the development community is basking under the dream of an intoxicating four-leaf clover high grown in artificial pleasure pods, but because it’s outside the scope of what they’re pursuing and toiling at, namely developing the software. Such business functions are often taken up by other service organizations (which are generally a part of the development community too) that do focus on implementing, supporting, customizing, etc. the software.

Why address the letter to an ITBusiness.ca article? I’m not entirely clear on that, however I do see the sense in linking the issues. Various other ITBusiness.ca articles report on the change in procurement processes as involving a decrease in the number of qualified suppliers, perceived increase of barriers to SMB providers, and introduction of methods such as electronic reverse auctions, which some people seem to be claiming would emphasize low initial costs at the expense better long-term purchase strategies. If I understand correctly, I think that what the Clue article proposes fits with what would work well for the channel partners of large vendors (whether they’re open source or not). It recognizes that channel partners provide valuable services, which risk being slashed from the procurement process (if the ITBusiness.ca articles’ various representative quotes are accepted). These services actually may be valuable toward saving taxpayers’ money in ways that could not be accounted for if the government focuses on purchase costs with only a few vendors directly. So these channel partners are essentially the equivalent to the general open source type of business, which is about providing value-added services around a typically, zero-cost product. They naturally share a goal here.

On the one hand the proposed procurement process change sounds like it may favour FOSS solutions because of upfront cost factors. But if these solutions cannot even be considered because the actual providers can’t get the opportunity to be part of the process, it’s moot.

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