OSEPA: Open Source software usage by European Public (OSEPA)

Published on: 06/06/2013

The OSEPA project was funded through the INTERREG IVC programme and was a partnership of 12 organisations in eleven countries. The aim of the project was to conduct a systematic debate among European public administrations supported by analysis and exchange of experience on the issue of free and/or open source software (FOSS) with a view to:

  1. Analyse, promote knowledge and foster awareness on the main benefits and disadvantages, cost evidence and effectiveness resulting from FOSS adoption and use;
  2. Explore, identify, build consensus on the framework conditions that would enable FOSS to become a technically, financially, legally viable alternative offering of IT solutions;
  3. Explore, identify, build consensus on and promote European, national and regional policies and policy approaches that may facilitate the emergence of FOSS as a mature and viable business model;
  4. Promote awareness, exchange and disseminate knowledge, good practice and case studies regarding the technical, financial and legal aspects of FOSS adoption by European public administrations in order to reduce uncertainty, inertia and resistance-to-change that limit experimentation and adoption of FOSS software;
  5. Discuss and promote the adoption of internal policies, mission statements, methodologies and action plans facilitating European public administrations to experiment, exploit and benefit from FOSS solutions.

OSEPA's main results are:

  • Survey of current FOSS usage in at least 20 EU countries.
  • A requirements analysis and guidelines on software procurement policies of European Public Administrations.
  • Two European conferences will take place. The primary objective is to explore the strategic impact of FOSS adoption and relate it to the existing European Public Administrations’ technology and service environments.
  • Interregional events (9 Workshops, 6 Study Visits & 6 Site Visits) aiming to facilitate exchange of experiences.
  • Good Practice Guide on FOSS use among European Public Administrations.
  • Analysis and recommendations on European and National Policies and practices on FOSS.

The project dissemination activities promoted awareness on FOSS and on OSEPA activities targeting a) relevant segments of the public opinion and b) Officers and elected representatives of local regional and national administrations.

Policy Context

FOSS presents significant advantages for adopters. According to surveys and research articles on the comparative assessment of FOSS vis-à-vis proprietary software solutions several explanatory factors are cited regarding its advantages:

  • Significant cost savings in the long term.
  • Independence from monopolistic vendors.
  • Comparatively better access to alternative sources for support, expertise and documentation.
  • Lower acquisition and maintenance costs.
  • Less litigation and contract management resources.
  • Better exploitation of older hardware.
  • Unbundles maintenance and service support from the acquisition of software.

Despite perceived advantages, adoption is not widespread due to a number of factors. Factors inhibiting adoption include financial, technical, legal, and personal issues:

  • Unknown total cost of ownership.
  • Vendor lock-in due to previous proprietary contracts of ICT infrastructure investments.
  • Political influence, inertia, risk adversity.
  • Administrative attitudes.
  • Inability to estimate total cost of ownership before any software procurement process.
  • Migration costs in terms of employee productivity.
  • Limited financial and organizational ability and resources to train employees.
  • IT solutions are rarely equivalent or they lack automated conversion between solutions (regarding data, user permissions and access control).
  • The lack of branding in combination with lack of awareness lead to high grades of resistance to change of decision makers and the end users.
  • Significant short term costs due to the migration that offset long term savings as public administrations can hardly plan for long-term savings.
  • Underestimation of the short term costs often foster disappointment and, therefore resistance to change finally.
  • Lack of proper legislation for procuring FOSS or of legal entities offering warranty regarding reliability and performance.
  • The lack of a commercial approach and mechanism in some cases is translated in limited user-friendliness.

Given that FOSS represents a potential of significant benefits enhancing the competitiveness of its adopters, both for public administrations as well as citizens and companies, it is of vital importance to examine how and whether appropriate public policies can alleviate barriers and inhibitors rendering the potential benefits of FOSS actual ones and enhancing thus the competitiveness of European economies.

Description of target users and groups

European public administrations, FOSS developers, FOSS communities, FOSS related projects, national and European associations of municipalities and regions, EU allies such as civil society actors involved in the debates about FOSS, social partners and policy makers.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

OSEPA followed a two-stage strategy:

1) Exchange of experiences
Exchange of experiences was accomplished by establishing, motivating and supporting communities of stakeholders. Exchange of experiences was achieved through 2 European conferences, 9 interregional workshops, 6 study and 6 site visits. Results were documented, evaluated and disseminated. Furthermore, experiences’ exchange was facilitated by the development of a good practice guide, analysis of needs & requirements, technical efficiency guidelines and guidelines on economic assessment of FOSS & proprietary SW solutions.

2) Conclusions & Recommendations
OSEPA devoted significant effort in consolidating the exchange of experiences into conclusions and policy recommendations that can be used as the basis for shaping practices and policies regarding FOSS. These materials were enriched and disseminated not only among the European Public Administrations representing the OSEPA consortium, but also among Public Administrations and stakeholders across Europe.

The project approached issues on 2 levels:

A) Implications of using FOSS at a micro-level (technical issues, how it will change the way staff works, etc), On the first level, awareness was raised reducing uncertainty, risk and resistance to change, which perhaps is among the biggest inhibitors to FOSS uptake.

B) Implications of using FOSS at the macro / policy / decision-making level (overall benefits to the economies, organisational innovation, increased capacity, etc). Partners’ existing contacts to European networks and expert teams were utilised, ensuring dissemination of project results towards all European countries at the policy making level.

Technology solution

Control over the use and distribution of software is the differentiating factor between the open source and proprietary model for software production. Proprietary software is based on the value of a fixed and exclusively owned property right that is protected by trademarks or patents and its usage can only be transferred under certain conditions that are usually stated in end-user licence agreements (EULAs). FOSS, on the other hand, relies on use rights that in most cases are non-excludable, non-rival and limitlessly transferable.  In this sense, FOSS sets, from the very beginning, the foundation for a different perspective on generating and harvesting software value.

Free and / or open source software is software that can be freely run, distributed and modified by accessing its source code. Although there are different definitions of FOSS, there are some basic principles and properties on which they all rely. These refer to:

  • the freedom to run a software program for any purpose;
  • the freedom to study and modify a software program by accessing its source code;
  • the freedom to distribute copies of a software program, whether modified or not.

Some additional requirements and specifications for open source software have been defined by the Open Source Initiative:

  • licence compliance of the derived works with the original software;
  • integrity of the author’s source code;
  • no discrimination against persons, groups or endeavour fields in open source contributions;
  • licence distribution;
  • licence not tied to a specific product or restricting other software;
  • licence must be technology neutral.

The inherent features and properties of open source software set a different paradigm for software development and use than that of proprietary software. Contrary to closed-source software that is based on proprietary licensing, open source does not restrict but promotes the ability to use, copy, distribute and modify the software. As a result, it is decoupled of exclusive rights of use and acquires the features of a public good: it is a mutually non exhaustive resource in the sense that its use by a user or an organisation does not reduce its utility for other potential users. It also employs an open and participatory software development scheme based on on-going contributions that build up a pool of open, accessible software code and related resources for anyone to use and draw from. Code contribution in open source repositories that are usually moderated by FOSS communities and non-profit foundations is not coming merely from volunteers but also, to a critical extent, by IT firms and enterprises. This open and collaborative model of software production shifts the conventional linear supplier-to-customer pattern to more complex schemes, based on user involvement, multiple producers and continuous feedback and community support.

Open source software licensing schemes are different than proprietary licensing regimes in the sense that they do not pose restrictions on the scale and extent of software usage. Instead, they promote and encourage software distribution, copying and modification under certain conditions, the most common of which is to release any modified software under a same licence type in order to maintain free code availability. Open source licences should not be associated however, with the public domain as they retain intellectual property rights for software and define certain obligations for the licensee rising from the licence agreement.

Open source software licence types also vary in terms of provisions defined and permissions granted regarding the freedom to reuse, distribute and integrate code in new software products.

OSS licences could be divided into:

  • “permissive’, or attribution-style licences (e.g. Berkeley Software Distribution / BSD, MIT licences) allowing developers to reuse software and re-release derivatives under any other licence type whether open-source or closed-source (proprietary).
  • “copyleft”, share / share-alike licences (e.g. GNU General Public Licence / GPL) requiring that any software modifications or redistributions are released under a same licence type and are freely and openly available.

Taking a closer look at software licence families, three licence groups are presented here: the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) licences, GNU General Public Licence (GPL) and the European Union Public Licence (EUPL). Although EUPL is considered a “copyleft”, licence type, it is presented separately due to its specific relevance for public administrations in the EU context.

Technology choice: Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The OSEPA project started in March 2010 and finished in December 2012. The objective of the OSEPA project was to improve the knowledge and competencies of local and regional Public Administrations in FOSS solutions through the effective collection, analysis, exchange and transfer of good practices which was achieved through the conduction of studies and guidelines to support them in choosing the most effective FOSS migration strategy within their provinces.

These studies and guidelines include:

  • FOSS European and National Policies and practices: Analysis and Recommendations
  • Technical efficiency guidelines for selecting between and among FOSS and proprietary SW solutions
  • Report on the economic foundation of open source software
  • Guide on free and open source software procurement for European Public Administrations
  • Policy Recommendation Paper
  • Quantitative Analysis of Survey Results on FOSS Usage
  • Analysis of Survey Results on the Needs & Requirements of EPA’s
  • Qualitative Analysis of Survey Results on FOSS Usage
  • Synthesis Assessment Report of the Site Visits
  • Synthesized Assessment Report of the OSEPA Study Visits
  • Report on license issues, Liability and SW Procurement Policies in Relationship with FOSS
  • OSEPA Open Source policy statement
  • Good Practice Guide covering various aspects of FOSS usage by EPA’s (34 Good Practices identified)
  • Policy Recommendation Paper on technical standards on FOSS usage
  • Interim synthesis assessment report of the OSEPA Workshops
  • FOSS Critical Success Factors
  • Potential FOSS Benchmarks
  • Survey on Open-source Cloud Computing Solutions

The exchange of knowledge and experience was also realised through the organisation of numerous interregional events:

  • 9 Workshops were organized to review FOSS good practices and strategic aspects for the successful implementation of FOSS.
  • 6 Study Visits were organised to offer the OSEPA members the opportunity to access the know-how already adopted by FOSS more experienced partners.
  • 5 Site Visits were organised to promote bilateral assessment of policies and to feed a comparative analysis of existing practice.
  • 7 Dissemination events were organised to explore the strategic impact of FOSS adoption and relate it to the existing EPAs' technology and service environments. Emphasis was placed on the current state of the art regarding FOSS adoption among EPAs and on the potential of FOSS uptake by EPAs (presenting results, guidelines, policy recommendations, etc.).

The immediate project result was spread within the members of the consortium and their regional local authority network contacts. The OSEPA message rapidly reached a wider range of audience (EPA’s, FOSS developers, FOSS communities, FOSS-related projects, national and European associations of municipalities and regions, EU allies and policy makers) through the communication and dissemination efforts of partners. In particular through the:

  • Project web portal
  • e-Newsletters
  • Brochures
  • Press Releases
  • FOSS Articles
  • Dissemination of studies and guidelines to numerous identified target groups

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

Overall, during the three year period of the project the partners achieved the objectives of communication and dissemination at a satisfactory level. The majority of the project objectives have been achieved making FOSS solutions more visible and a viable alternative software offering which is the best way to enhance the durability of project results and to sustain interest in FOSS. It is also a major step that partners presented the OSEPA project results and FOSS significant aspects / issues by their participation in numerous third party events and they intend to do so even after the end of the OSEPA project.

In addition, the project partners will utilise the social networking tools, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to further disseminate the scope, messages and activities of the OSEPA project even after the official end of the project. As a result, the participation in more third party events and the dissemination of project activities, results and messages through the social networking tools are the two main activities that the project partners will pay attention on even after the official end of the project. Moreover, the release of the “OSEPA Statement on European policies on FOSS usage by European public administrations”, on behalf of the 144 signatories, to the Vice President and Commissioner of Digital Agenda Ms Neelie Kroes resulted to the awareness of the project and its accomplishments to policymakers at the European Level. Digital Agenda expressed support for the objectives of the project and specified that will take into account the OSEPA Policy Statement when reflecting on possible future initiatives.

Lessons learnt

A) Main lessons learnt from the exchange of experience within the project
Key factors for successful FOSS migration are not only technical but also political, and organisational referring to the entire organisation structure, culture and operational cycle of EPA’s. In this scope, top management commitment is essential to steer such projects towards sustainable IT solutions that will trigger organisational changes and improve operational performance. Software selection is not only a technical matter but a strategic one that requires change management approaches and political support. EPA’s shall cooperate to develop EU wide, standardised frameworks and methodologies for benchmarking and assessing the implementation and integration of FOSS in the public sector under same principles, agreed conditions and defined benchmarks and indicators. High level institutional and political support based on best practices is required for public administrations to be able to employ shared and commonly accepted methodologies on FOSS assessment that will help improve software selection and procurement processes and speed up the integration of proven effective Open source tools and applications that produce valid, and transferable results. Evidence collected by the OSEPA experts who reviewed the current status, adoption and implementation of FOSS practices in PA’s in Latvia, Cyprus, Romania, Italy and Greece shown that all reviewed organisations currently use and have integrated, to a great extent, FOSS applications and solutions. In addition, a great number of IT staff demonstrates a significant level of knowledge and experience on FOSS usage, customization and development. The conclusions on current legal and organisational frameworks are rather mixed. While some organisations implement restricting policies prescribing specific proprietary products other stakeholders enjoy the flexibility of being able to freely choose and evaluate software applications as the most appropriate for their operations, whether FOSS or proprietary. There is, however, a common positive view and prospect on potential FOSS migration and on the benefits that it can bring for public organisations. FOSS migration initiatives are encouraged and are expected to increase in the coming years, based on the organisational needs, cost cutting requirements, and the capacities of IT support staff among all reviewed organizations. There is a clear need for the standardisation of current cloud platforms at least on terms of interface, negotiation and access through Web services. This is a considerable task as many clouds use different abstraction levels; some are generic whereas others focus on a specific application domain etc. Some initial steps have been taken into this direction with the setup of the Open Cloud Manifesto, an initiative supported by hundreds of companies.

B) Lessons Learnt from the Research on EU Policies
The use, adoption and integration of FOSS in the IT infrastructures of European governments and public administrations has not always followed the same pace or moved towards the same direction. Legal and institutional frameworks, social, economic and technological aspects are some of the differentiating factors that explain gaps or divides between regions and countries on the awareness and penetration level of open source.

Scope: Pan-European