mfioretti: public administration*

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  1. Italian proponents of the use of free and open source software by public administrations are protesting a decision by the town of Pesaro to switch from using OpenOffice to a proprietary cloud-based office solution. They say the city has garbled the cost calculations and omitted a required software assessment study.

    The move to the proprietary cloud-based office solution was announced in a press release by the vendor, published on 23 June. The vendor argues that the use of OpenOffice had resulted in higher than anticipated support costs and loss of productivity, and says that its office solution is cheaper.

    In December, the city published a tender, directly requesting licences of a proprietary, cloud-based office solution. According to city council documents, the request failed to get any response, after which Pesaro directly awarded a contract. The documents explain that this is allowed for amounts lower than EUR 40,000.

    At the same time, the city council was informed about problems related to the 2010 transition to OpenOffice, an alternative, open source suite of office productivity tools.


    The city explains that this transition was never completed. Several users continued to use outdated versions of the proprietary office suite, resulting in a time-wasting mix of document formats. The city says OpenOffice was slow to open documents, particular documents on the Internet. Pesaro also reports document interoperability problems, including text formatting and difficulties with spreadsheets and links to a database system included in the proprietary office suite.

    These interoperability problems had caused “considerable inconvenience and loss of time”, Pesaro writes.

    Advocates of the use of free and open source software by public administrations decry the city’s decision. Pesaro has lost control over its infrastructure, and is further locking itself in to proprietary software, writes Paolo Vecchi, CEO of Omnis, a UK-based provider of IT services, in a report on Tech Economy, an Italian IT news site. A well-organised migration to LibreOffice, closely related to OpenOffice, will over time save Pesaro lots of money, he writes.

    “Pesaro invented the EUR 300,000 cost of OpenOffice” says Vecchi. “They have the courage to say OpenOffice does not suit them, while ignoring the recommendations and the plans provided by the company that supported the software.”
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  2. Given the Internet’s growing importance for education, health care and jobs, non-adopters are tragically mistaken about relevance. So the focus needs to be on persuading them to join us. And join us they must. The more users who join the network, the faster each added connection increases its value. The silence of older, rural and less-educated Americans from the online conversation makes all of us that much poorer.

    The new digital divide can only be bridged by making digital life more relevant. And there’s a relatively simple way to do it. Older, rural, and less-educated Americans share one important characteristic -- they are all heavy users of government services. For example, 53 percent of benefits go to people 65 and older. Migrating entitlements to easy-to-use applications, and providing training through community-based groups, will make the Internet essential, if not irresistible, to those still disconnected.

    What are those apps? For older Americans, they include one-stop shopping for information about Social Security, Medicare, and tailored services, such as telehealth. For rural users, as well as those with less education, key services are those that help with both education and employment: matching résumés with openings, signing up for vocational education for in-demand positions and financial aid. Health insurance and child welfare services are also critical.

    Different federal and state government agencies today provide these benefits, and in many cases, some information is already online. But we need apps that pull together relevant information across government and agency boundaries and a design that is focused on convenience for the user. Deploying them quickly would not only increase online adoption but also simultaneously improve government performance and lower its cost.
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  3. f you’ve been to a conference in the past 12 months – you’ll almost certainly have seen the slide above, or a version of it.

    Mentioning “disruptive innovation” adds a sprinkle of sophistication to otherwise ordinary presentations. It’s a sit up and take notice slide that says: ‘Better listen, or you could be history.”

    However – it doesn’t always hit its intended target. A significant portion of the audience at a couple of events I’ve been to recently have looked at each other as if to say ‘that couldn’t happen to us’.

    The reason for this seems to be the comfort blanket that can come with extended working in the public and social sectors.

    The thinking can go like this.

    We are different.
    We deal with people who are highly complex with multiple needs and vulnerabilities.
    No tech outfit could hope to understand the extent of the personalisation involved in our services.

    It’s optimistic thinking – probably the same that was held by some taxi firms pre-Uber and hotels before Airbnb.

    It’s going to take radical change a lot closer to home before many managers recognise how profoundly the rules of business have changed in the digital age.

    Arguably though , it’s already happening. I’ve made a slide of my own that might be more relevant to the public sector.

    Far from fantasy – we are at the beginning of the end of one size fits all health, housing and social care monopolies.

    Some examples:
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  4. The exit plan should be based on pilot projects that consider alternatives, the city council decided. With 53 of the total 67 votes, the council changed the city’s desktop software plans. The councillors want applications to become independent from PC operating system or office productivity tools. And in late 2018, when desktop operating and office licences expire, Bern has to publish an open call for tender, using vendor-neutral specifications.

    “Basically, from now on, the IT department may only procure and implement solutions that are platform-independent”, the councillors agreed on Thursday.
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  5. Public administrations that switch to open source regain financial scalability, says Jan-Taeke Schuilenga, IT architect at DUO, the Dutch government agency managing the financing of the country’s educational institutions. “We had reached the limit of proprietary licence possibilities. Switching to open source gave us freedom of choice.”

    “We have embraced open source, and the way things are going it could take over everything”, the government IT architect said on Monday at a meeting in The Hague organised by open source firms EnterpriseDB and RedHat.

    The agency has over 2,000 employees, including 500 IT staffers. The organisation is responsible for salaries for teachers and educational organisation staff members, manages financing of school buildings, provides services for state examinations and handles applications and payments of student grants.

    DUO is currently switching many of its core customer-facing ICT services to an open source business platform. The new platform runs RedHat Linux servers and Java application servers, alongside many other tools for system management and software development, including Puppet, GIT and Gerrit. The agency is also using Zabbix for monitoring its network and applications, and combines the Elastisearch search engine with the Kibana data visualization tool.
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  6. However, I told no one that I was watching email volume. If employees knew my Lime Equation, they would manipulate email volume – consciously or unconsciously. I saved the Lime Equation and saved my employees from this temptation so I could trust them without any reservations.

    What’s Worthy of a Lime Equation?

    Free from the burden of checking and enforcing arbitrary performance guidelines, the Lime Equation helped me run a more effective company. By keeping the Lime Equation secret, I kept everyone honest, including myself.

    Still, the overwhelming majority of metrics that matter to a businesses should be transparent. Sales, social metrics, customer satisfaction, support response times and dozens of indicators should be accessible to all the people who depend them to measure and improve their craft. The difference with a Lime Equation is that it can’t instruct people like these metrics can because it is a proxy measurement for a smorgasbord of desirable behaviors. The Lime Equation metric is not a desirable outcome in itself, like a sale or 5/5 review.

    The hardest part of a Lime Equation is finding the right one. To do this, look at what you currently micromanage. Whatever is killing peace of mind and stressing your employees out – whatever calls for the corporate equivalent of security cameras and random searches – that is what needs a Lime Equation.
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  7. However, according to Greifzu's presentation, a second motivation for Leipzig to switch to LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice was a licence audit in 2010 by the IT vendor of the ubiquitous proprietary office suite. The IT vendor did not accept the licences registered and used by Lecos, and forced Lecos to pay a very high fine. "It seems that the licence model of the big software firms is aimed at raising turnover and profit", Greifzu said in Dublin. "Worldwide, there are only a handful of persons that can understand and perhaps explain the licence rules."

    Together with the switch to open source office suites, the city made the Open Document Format (ODF) the default for internal document processes. "We're asking contractors and partners to also use ODF", Greifzu said. "However, there are many instances where the city administration is required to supply information in a proprietary format. That includes federal government and municipalities that use proprietary solutions."
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  8. By 2015, it will be mandatory for citizens in Denmark to use digital solutions to communicate in writing with the public sector. The conversion to digital communication is introduced step-by-step, and a public campaign to change the citizens’ habits has been launched.
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  9. Munich's switch to open source software has been successfully completed, with the vast majority of the public administration's users now running its own version of Linux, city officials said today.
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  10. The administration of the Spanish autonomous region of Valencia has completed its switch to LibreOffice, a free and open source suite of office productivity applications. Last week Friday the region's ICT department announced that the office suite is installed on all of the 120,000 desktop PCs of the administration, including schools and courts. The migration will save the government some 1.5 million euro per year on proprietary software licences.
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