The digital strategy of the French region of Rhône-Alpes includes the use of free software, interoperability, open formats and open data, following a decision by the regional council. The move can be seen as a form of “regionalisation” of the so-called Ayrault Circular (signed by Jean-Marc Ayrault, former French Prime Minister), which recommends the use of free software by ministers.
Four principles have officially been formalized by the Regional Council of Rhône-Alpes to promote the use of open formats, free software and open data. Signed by council president Jean-Jack Queyranne in 2014, these measures are part of a global programme called “Rhône Alpes, la Région Connectée” (“the Connected Region”) whose goal is to promote the expansion of digital technologies and the creation of a digital ecosystem in the area.
Jean-Jack Queyranne had previously commissioned Jean-Marie Chosson, a regional councillor representing the environmentalist party EELV, to work on interoperability, free software and open data. In 2010, Chosson confirmed the region’s involvement in free software, explaining that it was a means to pool software resources, which he described at that time as “common goods”.
This idea of software commons is also at the heart of an intervention by Chosson in 2014 at the plenary session preceding the resolution of the regional council. In his speech, Chosson made three proposals:
In its deliberation (PDF), the regional council confirmed these points and approved “the establishment of an active policy of interoperability, free software (open source) and public open data.”
The Rhône-Alpes region accordingly set down the following principles:
In addition, the region confirmed its commitment to pooling efforts. It “wants to diversify its involvement” by joining both APRIL (the French association for the promotion of free software) and ADULLACT (Association pour les Développeurs et Utilisateurs de Logiciels Libres dans les Administrations et les Collectivités Territoriales), a group representing developers and users of free software in public administrations. Since Rhône-Alpes had already become a member of ADULLACT the February decision acted as a confirmation, Chosson said.
A key point also addressed the spreading of good practices in terms of interoperability and free software. The region is encouraging all its partners “to act in the same direction through promotional activities and exchanges” with governments and agencies in the region, private businesses, the education sector, and other regions with which Rhône-Alpes collaborates.
According to Jean-Marie Chosson, a year after the region officially formalized its involvement in free software it had made real and tangible progress.
The LibreOffice productivity suite is now installed on all the region’s 2 000 workstations, alongside Microsoft Office. LibreOffice should now be “the default choice”, Chosson said.
The region is also working on:
Jean-Marie Chosson was not re-elected in the last French regional election in December 2015. During this election, French citizens were able to vote for the creation of new regions, following a governmental decision to merge areas. As a result, Rhône-Alpes has merged with the Auvergne region.
“The public services in Rhône-Alpes anticipated the fusion with Auvergne and were prepared for this,” Chosson said. Nonetheless, he remains uncertain about how the new political situation will affect free software, open data and interoperability.
Savings from using LibreOffice instead of Microsoft Office are evaluated at EUR 200 000, and the region’s dependency on Microsoft has decreased by 50%. But, Chosson adds, “the price is not the most important thing: this is primarily about better control and security of the region’s information system while supporting the development of genuine ‘software common goods’.”
“For the public interest, we always have to consider free software and implement appropriate processes and best practices, including backup and deduplication”, Chosson said. These best practices help to increase rates of adoption and acceptance, and limit hesitation among administrations.
Among the hurdles Chosson cited the example of “political resistance” in a 2010 vote. “Technicians didn’t have a positive approach towards free software, because they were hired to work on proprietary software,” he said.
Most importantly, “elected representatives must show their commitment strongly – but it is also important not to proceed too quickly,” Chosson added. “We need to urge departments to implement migration processes, but we also need to respect their needs to work at their own pace, and not to migrate too quickly.”
With free software and interoperability strongly linked, “open data is also an extension of this openness and interoperability strategy”, Chosson added.