COSS Competence Centre Finland

Published on: 14/06/2009

In late 2003 a team around Petri Räsäsnen from the Technology Centre Hermia founded the Finnish Centre for Open Source Solutions (COSS). The centre's main aim is to promote open source software in the public and the private sector. Initially the centre started with an annual government-funded budget of € 150 000. Today, COSS has more than 140 members, and is actively involved in the Finnish open source ecosystem. While its services have been mostly addressed to small and medium sized businesses as well as the public sector, the centre is trying to broaden its range of services to address the end user.

Policy Context

The idea to set up a Finnish Centre for Open Source Solutions, as COSS is called in Finnish, came up in 2003. As the awareness for open source software started to grow in these days, Petri Räsänen, working at the state-owned Technology Centre Hermia Ltd and other people in the technology sector saw the necessity to develop their own competences in the field. The basic idea for the establishment of a competence centre was thus made in these days. The Technology Centre Hermia Ltd took part in a competition for a government funded program called Centre of Expertise Programmes (OSKE), which was managed by the Ministry of the Interior. After winning this “OSKE Top Project” competition, the Finnish Centre for Open Source Solutions (COSS) was established, building on the guaranteed basic funding of € 150 000 for the first two years. Since then, COSS has been a self funded project. The number of members that made use of the services offered by COSS was increasing steadily, which also ensured financial security.

Description of target users and groups

Although most members are smaller businesses, there are also a few larger companies. COSS offers consulting services, organizes congresses and gives trainings, amongst other things. COSS also has frequent contact with the public sector, if the services are required. Today COSS is looking back on a successful history of five years, with an increasing number of happy members.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The general attitude towards open source software in Finland is rather positive, say the centre's experts. This makes the work of COSS easier to some extent, as many partners are open when it comes to open source solutions. Knowledge about Open Source software however is still rather low. In the private sector, it is either the case that a company is willing and open to use open source software, or they simply exclude the possibility. In this case, convincing them of the benefits can be quite difficult. Convincing the private sector of the benefits of Open Source software is easier, due to the cost-saving argument. Open Source solutions can create large savings, more security, and independence from proprietary software makers, which is certainly interesting for the public sector as well.

Technology solution

Technology choice: Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

Many Finish municipalities and other state agencies are very small and situated far apart across the country. This makes it difficult for them to deploy open source systems, as there is no local support for them, and developing a system for their own needs would be costly and certainly less comfortable than just going to the store. The understanding that open source software is appropriate for the public sector is certainly there, but many governmental bodies are simply too small to start using a new system on their own in the absence of local support. COSS sees the answer to this problem in cooperation. If the smaller governmental agencies and municipalities would cooperate, the problems related to their organisational size would disappear. Unfortunately however this is very difficult to achieve. COSS is trying to promote open source software within higher-level governmental bodies, so they can then coordinate the use of open source software at the lower levels. As one example where open source is already deployed there is the Ministry of Justice. Here the institution is large enough to make use of the advantages of open source, and there is no cooperation with other agencies necessary. The moment where cooperation becomes essential for the deployment of open source software, this becomes a problem. Through the network of members, from the private sector and the public sector alike, all can benefit by making use of all the expertise.

Track record of sharing

For COSS cooperation is an essential part of their work, as without their partners and members their work hardly makes any sense. In many cases the COSS team relies on the expertise of its members and partners for certain issues, where no in-house knowledge is available. There are several examples of cooperation between COSS and another bodies. As the first example there is Tekes, which is the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. In 2007 COSS coordinated a national open source business programme by the name “The Verso Open Source Business Programme”. “The programme was funded by Tekes and implemented by COSS with the help of COSS member companies and other partners”, explains Matti Saastamoinen, one of the experts at COSS. Another important partner today is the Finnish Ministry of Finance. COSS is working closely together with them in creating an open source procurement guide for the public sector. Moreover COSS is representing Finland at the IDABC [Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens] expert meetings of open source and document standards. Besides these partnerships, COSS is also active in a number of open source networks, namely: Open Source Business Organisations of Europe OpenNordic FOSSBazaar The involvement in those networks is very important for the work of COSS, as they prove to be a very good platform for exchanging all kinds of information and knowledge related to open source technology. On the centre's website, Saastamoinen expresses the idea behind COSS: “Together we can achieve better results than by working alone”. This goes for much of the daily work of COSS.

Lessons learnt

From the start, COSS has benefited from a solid structure and a team that is both highly qualified and motivated. Its approach of working with both the public and the private sector has proved highly successful. This is evidenced by the fact that unlike most other open source competence centres in Europe, COSS is able to sustain itself without public funding. The close association with partners certainly helps. It is also worth noting that COSS started out relatively early when compared to other such projects in Europe. There are a few points that were essentially important for the success of COSS, just as there are concerns that are still ongoing today. For a small project like COSS, it is relatively easy to adapt to changes in the market. The ability to shift their strategy according to the most recent requirements of the market enables them to be successful and to be right were the customer needs them. Important for the success of COSS in the early stage was timing. As there was no other centre before them, the demand was there, and the timing was right. The initial team of the Technology Centre Hermia Ltd had a good feeling for the demand at the time. The Centre of Expertise Programmes (OSKE) committee, which awarded COSS its first two years of government funding, appreciated this. The dedication and determination of the COSS team are equally important. As there was no other competence centre in charge of the promotion of open source software, the team realised that they had important task. Moreover, it was always their main aim to help their members in whatever way they can. The centre puts the promotion of open source software in the core of their targets, and did not aim at creating own business opportunities that would compete with their members. The network of members furthermore is another important aspect, without which COSS would not operate today as it does. A member network with over 140 members and annual growth rate of 10% including key players as Nokia and Tekes is crucial for the success of COSS.

Scope: National