Study About Open Source Software (SK0076)
Action Plan: Slovak Republic National Action Plan 2017-2019
Action Plan Cycle: 2017
Lead Institution: Deputy Prime Minister for investment and Informatization, in cooperation with the ministers, the head of the Government Office, chair of the Public Procurement Office and the Plenipotentiary of the Government for the Development of Civil Society
Support Institution(s): NA
Policy AreasAccess to Information, Open Data
Commitment No. 19: In cooperation with experts, carry out a study that will document the possibilities, advantages and disadvantages of using open source software and other licensing models in the state administration.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
THEME - Open source software
Comm 16, 17, 18, 19
Language of the commitment as it appears in the action plan[Note : The Office of the Plenipotentiary, “Open Government Partnership National Action Plan of the Slovak Republic 2017 – 2019”, http://bit.ly/2QYIlHV]:
Commitment 16: “Enable the disclosure of source code and development using open methods for newly developed plug-ins and extensions of web browsers and client applications.”
Commitment 17: “Document the use of selected open source components in custom-made information systems, analyze the possibility of publishing parts of the code and documentation under an open license and publish selected parts of the code.”
Commitment 18: “Publish at the Open Data Portal the list of used open source software stating the purpose of each type of software, license type, as well as software for which a government body has a license for its use, distribution and publishing”
Commitment 19: “In cooperation with experts, carry out a study that will document the possibilities, advantages and disadvantages of using open source software and other licensing models in the state administration.”
Start Date: Not specified
End Date: 31 December 2017 and ongoing
Context and Objectives
According to Slovensko.digital, the state spends yearly app. 500 million euro on IT services[Note : Slovensko.digital, “Tlačová správa: Rašiho úrad neplní vlastné sľuby. Neprajú si to dodávatelia štátnych systémov” (Press release: Raši’s office does not fulfil its promises because suppliers of state IT systems do not wish so), http://bit.ly/2TDFAOx (in Slovak) ]. Given the ongoing criticism of e-government projects[Note : The Office of the President of the Slovak Republic, “Kiska: Minuli sme 900 miliónov a občania sú stále poštármi” (We have spent 900 millions and citizens are still postmen), https://bit.ly/2akD4tu (speech at the ITAPA 2015 conference in Slovak); Ján Hargaš, “Niečo špeciálne na záver“ (Something special at the end), http://bit.ly/2AjRwMt (closing speech at the ITAPA 2018 conference in Slovak). ], mostly for lack of transparency and competitiveness in the procurement processes, the commitments signaling that the government will explore more its opportunities to use open source software (OSS) is positive. Slovensko.digital has continuously emphasized that IT bids should be divided into smaller parts to avoid vendor-lock-in (a situation when a customer, e.g. a state agency, cannot easily transition to a competition)[Note : Slovensko.digital, “Tlačová správa: Slovensko.Digital bude nákupy štátnych IT systémov hodnotiť trinástimi kritériami.” (Slovakia.Digital will evaluate the purchases of state IT systems with thirteen criteria), http://bit.ly/2QpcDal (in Slovak). ]. It also promoted the use of OSS, as some of these problems could be mitigated by using it instead of proprietary or ‘closed source’ software. In particular, OSS could bring more transparency and lower implementation and running costs. An investigative journalist interviewed for this report who writes about overpriced IT projects[Note : Martin Turček, “Ľudia blízki Kažimírovi zarobili milióny. Na zákazke od jeho ministerstva” (People close to Kažimír earned millions on the order from his ministry), Aktuality.sk, http://bit.ly/2rGwK5A (in Slovak); Martin Turček, “Štát plánuje dať ďalšie 4 milióny eur na projekt, ktorý takmer nikto nevyužíva” (State plans to inject further four millions to the project that almost nobody uses). Aktuality.sk, http://bit.ly/2QBiutI (in Slovak); Martin Turček, “Kaliňákova skartovačka: zničili doklady z 277 obstarávaní” (Kaliňák’s shredder: they destroyed documents from 277 public procurement orders), Aktuality.sk, http://bit.ly/2A0T4eZ (in Slovak); Martin Turček, “Úrady preverujú utajené miliónové zmluvy. Daniari podpísali ďalšie” (Agencies examine secret million contracts. Financial Administration signed others), Aktuality.sk, http://bit.ly/2QBKm14 (in Slovak); Martin Turček, “Počiatkovi vypadol zo skrine kostlivec. Predražené zmluvy za milión eur” (Počiatek has a skeleton in the closet – overpriced contracts for a million euro), Aktuality.sk, http://bit.ly/2GkXiDK (in Slovak); Martin Turček, “Prokuratúra preverí predražené IT zákazky za Počiatka” (The prosecutor’s office will investigate overpriced IT tenders approved by Počiatek), Aktuality.sk, http://bit.ly/2Giu2gX (in Slovak)] is convinced that OSS could eliminate the extent of overpriced contracts in the IT sector as it will not allow the agencies to sign an exclusive license, and maintenance and support agreements with suppliers[Note : Interview with Martin Turček (Aktuality.sk), 15 October 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ].
The design of OSS is publicly accessible and thus, allows anyone to inspect, modify and improve the software. This public element is the greatest advantage of OSS[Note : Opensource.com, “What is open source?”, https://red.ht/2PHcOJB ] and embodies OGP values. It encourages transparent processes, and collaborative participation and enables public control of the software. One of the interviewees for this report and the author of the analysis on the possibilities, advantages and disadvantages of using OSS in the public administration, argued that governments worldwide have embedded OSS because they want to increase the security of their systems, which is in contrast with the biggest myth about OSS, i.e. it is not secure enough[Note : Interview with Ján Gondoľ (worked for Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Informatization of the Slovak Republic as a consultant on OGP commitments during the action plan implementation), 5 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. For instance, the UK[Note : Crown Commercial Service, “Collabora deal will provide savings on Open Source office software”, http://bit.ly/2A16O9i; Government Digital Service, “Be open and use open source”, http://bit.ly/2GlcHUF; GDS Technology in Government blog: open source, http://bit.ly/2LmYjd6 ] and the US[Note : The White House – President Barack Obama, The People’s Code, http://bit.ly/2EqFRiG and Code.gov, “Sharing America's Code Unlock the tremendous potential of the Federal Government’s software”, https://code.gov/ ] are one of the frontrunners in using OSS in the government.
The topic of OSS in Slovakia is not new although it has appeared in OGP action plan for the first time only now. For instance, the Ministry of Finance had published in 2009 the Methodical guidelines for the procurement of software products in public administration[Note : The Ministry of Finance, “Príručka k Metodickému usmerneniu pre obstarávanie
softvérových produktov vo verejnej správe“ (Methodical guidelines for the procurement of software products in public administration), http://bit.ly/2UPNcxS (in Slovak)], mentioning the need to explore the possibility of obtaining OSS. [Note : ibid. ]. Although the Strategy on the use of software products in public administration was approved by the government in 2009[Note : The Government of the Slovak Republic, “Government resolution no. 523/2009 on the Strategy on the use of software products in public administration” (15 July 2009), http://bit.ly/2ChvsEw (in Slovak). ], the practice often did not follow recommendations set in the strategy. Therefore, commitments 16 – 18 to document and publish the use of open source components in custom-made public administration information systems are important. They help to trigger the discussion about OSS in public administration, explore who uses it and last but not least to send a signal to IT companies that this will be a trending topic[Note : Interview with Ján Gondoľ (worked for Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Informatization of the Slovak Republic as a consultant on OGP commitments during the action plan implementation), 5 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. One interviewee argued that big IT companies – state suppliers – often profit the most from the current status quo with limited use of OSS and exclusive license and maintenance agreements. All interviewed stakeholders agreed that in this situation commitment 16, to disclose source code for newly developed plug-ins and applications, could have a substantial potential impact, nonetheless only for new projects where vendor-lock-in does not already exist.
In order to achieve success, it is important to get buy-in from public servants. Therefore, commitment 19 to analyze pros and cons of using OSS in public administration is useful and could have a potential impact if it provides convincing arguments and reaches a critical audience of public servants who are in a position to decide what software solutions will be chosen.
The consultations with experts confirmed that the current commitments on OSS represent an important first step to advance the use of OSS in public administration. Therefore, the IRM researcher recommends taking this topic forward to the next action plan. There have already been some good practice examples of the use of OSS in public administration on which other public agencies can build[Note : The monitoring platform for the use of EU structural funds (ITMS+), https://www.itms2014.sk/we-love-oss (in Slovak). ]. While there is not much that can be done retroactively in relation to the overpriced proprietary IT projects, as it is unlikely that suppliers will be willing to give up their rights arising from past contracts. Nonetheless, the practice can be changed for future projects. However, that would require a holistic approach across different sectors. It would also require the amendment of laws and regulations governing public procurement. For instance, another OGP area – open education includes a commitment to create a repository for open educational resources. If public agencies had a broader approach, then they would have considered using OSS for the repository. As one interviewee stated, instead they went for proprietary software without exploring possibilities. As a result, it is impossible to assess the ‘value for money’ the public would get from this repository, because “everything is hidden from public sight”. Moreover, he stressed that the ministry will most probably never be able to change the supplier[Note : Interview with Ján Gondoľ (worked for Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Informatization of the Slovak Republic as a consultant on OGP commitments during the action plan implementation), 5 November 2018. See Section ‘VI. Methodology and sources for details. ]. OSS commitments, as well as OGP commitments more broadly, should not be implemented isolated.