Overcoming users' fear of change made to their computing environment is the biggest issue organisations must deal with when moving to open source, according to a report by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport in Spain's Valencia autonomous region.
The ministry moved to an almost complete open source IT system over the past four years. This meant some six hundred civil administrators and four hundred engineers and architects had to become familiar with new applications and a new desktop PC environment.
"In hindsight, we must admit that the major problem over the years has been the fear of change", writes Martín Garcia Hernández, head of the IT department, in his introduction to a report by the ministry on its move to open source, the gvPontis project.
The English translation of the report was published on the gvPontis project website earlier this month.
Users worrying about the technological innovation "proved this project's worst enemy", Garcia Hernández writes, adding that his department managed this challenge "with well-laid plans, training and an alternative plan of action just in case."
In eighteen chapters the report describes in detail the move to for instance open source database management systems, reporting tools, business process management systems, open source desktop PCs, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Computer Aided Design systems (CAD).
The ministry for example replaced the Microsoft Access and Oracle proprietary database systems by the open source alternatives PostgreSQL and MySQL. It is also using Jasper Reports for creating reports and developed it's own open source document management system gvAdoc. "One problem here was convincing the firm that developed the application to publish the software libraries used in the development."
Moving the PCs to open source proved the most sensitive part of the entire project. Apart from depending on the desktop applications, the users were familiar only with the proprietary Windows PC environment.
The IT department tried several open source desktop alternatives. In a pilot in 2004 ten users were for instance moved to the KDE desktop environment on Suse GNU/Linux. Now all PCs in the ministry run the GNU/Lliurex Linux distribution, which is developed by the government of the Valencia autonomous region and is based on the Ubuntu GNU/Linux distribution.
The ministry decided to move to open source in 2003 when it was confronted with "a considerable increase in licence costs which became unsustainable as the majority of our budget went on acquiring these licences."
The gvPontis project was carried out without any additional resources being allocated to the IT department. A second aim of the project was that negative effects on the staff's daily work were to be kept at a minimum. "The work itself is more important than the means", writes Garcia Hernández.
"We have been told this is what is known as a 'success story'. We prefer to call it a unique experience."