I see from today’s Irish Times that the Local Government Computer Services Bord is to move away from their allegiance to Microsoft after nearly 10 years, preferring instead to adopt an “open source view of the world”. They cite the “annual payment cost of 29%” for Microsoft’s Software Assurance as being a contributory factor as well as reluctance to see their data “data to be stuck in old infrastructure where we have to pay somebody to get it out”. This public announcement comes on the back of the Bord setting up an Open Source Practice and engaging with Local Authorities via Open Source roadshows.
Interestingly, at the same time, we at Esri Ireland are seeing increasing adoption of our ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Server, ArcGIS Viewer for Flex and our LocalView Fusion platform amongst Local Authorities as the Bord’s previous Microsoft, MapInfo, Intergraph strategy comes apart. In the past few months we have had three early adopters of LocalView Fusion and a number of others taking the first step with ArcGIS Server – so what’s going on?
Well I agree with the sentiments expressed by Tim Willoughby at the Bord that we need to “better prepare Local Government for a future that will involve social media, the semantic web and web 3.0 technologies”. In fact in what we have being doing so far with ArcGIS Server and LocalView Fusion we are seeing a real appetite for a new conversation between Local Authorities and their Citizens, Elected Representatives, NGO’s and other Stakeholders using location based Social Networking along Web 2.0 lines.
The Local Authorities that we have spoken to are very progressive – they want modern, performant open software that does indeed support open standards and enables rapid development and deployment via loose coupled architectures. One only has to look at Fingal’s Open Data website or Dublin City Council’s Community Maps site to see where things are headed and as LocalView Fusion rolls out we will see more use of GeoRSS, map enabled Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
If I have a difference with Tim it’s in that I’m not so sure that Open Source is the only, or necessarily the best, strategy for achieving these objectives. But I would say that wouldn’t I? We’ll yes, but my opinion is based on what I see and hear.
Local Authorities are telling us that they want to use GIS technology that works, has a reasonable cost of ownership and a large degree of flexibility to meet their Gov 2.0 aspirations. Whatever they may need to do, they are telling us that they need to do it with less people, with skills that are easily acquired in the market and above all quickly.
Now these are not necessarily characteristics that one would instantly associate with Open Source software. The poster child implementation here in Ireland for Open Source GIS seems to be the Irish Health Atlas, which although indeed an impressive system involves a myriad of technology components, most of which individually are unfamiliar to Local Government IT professionals and in combination must be a truly daunting prospect. The last time I saw an eTenders contract award for support and development of this system the contract cost was in the many hundreds of thousands of euro.
So is there a strategy for GIS in Local Authorities that adopts Open Standards, offers the advantages of Open Source and above all delivers on the Open Government agenda that is emerging as a mantra of our politicians? Well yes, I believe there is and it’s a hybrid model.
The strategy we have adopted is to use a proven, professionally engineered product stack to provide the functionality, ease of use and supportability that our Customers require at the desktop and on the server platform. But then to open up this stack completely to web and mobile clients using a huge array of Open Standards, Free Open Source Software and just plain old free software.
I believe that one of the reasons we are seeing an increasing adoption of our COTS products amongst Local Government Customers is because they do the heavy lifting in a familiar, easy to use and highly productive environment. Our Customer’s can then quickly, easily and cheaply exploit the huge benefits of the mass of API’s, applications and 3rd party free or Open Source software that then becomes available to them some of which I have listed here;
You can download the ArcGIS Viewer for Flex for free, from here; http://help.arcgis.com/en/webapps/flexviewer/ by far our most popular free software and yes you get the source too!
You can download the Esri GeoPortal Server for free from here; http://sourceforge.net/projects/geoportal/ available under the Apache Licence.
You can access and download our Web Mapping API’s from here; http://resources.arcgis.com/content/arcgisserver/web-apis
You can download our iOS application for free from here; http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/arcgis/id379687930?mt=8
You can download our Windows Phone 7 application for free from here; http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/smartphones/index.html
You can download ArcGIS Explorer for free from here; http://www.esri.com/software/arcgis/explorer/index.html
You can access ArGIS.com for free from here; www.arcgis.com
You can download the GeoServices REST Specification from here; http://www.esri.com/industries/landing-pages/geoservices/geoservices.html
And these resources are just from us, the list of complimentary additional free and Open Source resources available from the Esri community of Customers, 3rd Party Developers and Partners is simply too long to insert here.
So this is a case where I think it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Above all I look forward to working with our Customers and hopefully the Bord to ensure that together we truly exploit the huge social, environmental and business benefits of GIS. Who knows in the future we may even be invited to a few of those LGCSB Open Source Workshops which currently seem to be a bit of a closed shop!