originally uploaded by Adriano Gasparri
A recent SunThisweek Letter to the Editor speaks in favor of Matt Little as Lakeville’s next mayor. However, another Lakeville resident takes issue with Little’s suggestion that the City move to free software to cut costs. While they make some great points about free software, they appear to miss many of its more important features.
From the comment:
Love the Water says:
October 8, 2012 at 10:12 am
Little wanted to swap out all of the current software the city uses and switch to “free software” in an effort to save money. Hmmm…let’s get rid of something we already paid for and get free software that nobody knows how to use which creates inefficiencies, error potentials, frustration and difficulty working with other organizations that do not operate on the same software. Ignorance is bliss
As a Linux user for over 15 years, I am all for use of free software when it benefits the taxpayer in both the short and long term. However, like this SunThisweek commenter, I may have issues with swapping out ‘paid’ software with free software due to many of the issues they present.
But! Just because software is ‘paid for’ does not necessarily mean there isn’t a good reason to swap it out for those programs which are freely available. Much software comes with limited licenses which must be renewed to continue operation and free variants should be given equal consideration in the bid process.
- Take for example a fictional document imaging software. There may be a free alternative which does 90% of the work a pay-for version does but costs 100% less. The pay-for software likely comes with a yearly contract renewal from whatever third party is pushing it to maintain the software, provide employee training, and re-up the site user license. If this software was free and the costs associated with training and maintenance remain the same (or slightly elevated) there seems to be a great opportunity to save some real dollars while providing only a minor inconvenience in staff time.
This pay-for software may cost $15,000 a year for the lowest level license allowing only 300,000 pages to be scanned a year. The employee(s) hired to do the scanning may be able to complete this task in only a few days a month and are left to their own devices for the remainder of the month which would equate to a huge loss in staff dollars as well as software.
Obviously, there are a lot of caveats to this approach but it could work in both the short and especially the long term and should not be dismissed because it appears naive on the face to those who are neither familiar nor comfortable with IT software purchase and licensing. The number of private sector companies taking advantage of the relative lack of knowledge, time available, and dollars available in the public sector can be surprising. A public sector agency opting to take this route could really become a leader in the sector in opting for free software as a replacement for pay-for software while saving their taxpayers real money.
Remember, staff time is something which is generally a fixed cost whereas IT is something which could be mitigated. What if a piece of software is delayed for 5+ years in a budget simply because the organization cannot find appropriate funding for the high costs associated with the software’s deployment? Should the staff wait and continue antiquated processes just because the organization is unable to move to free software because its ‘pay-for’ counterpart is better understood? Could this equate to costs much higher than those associated with the software itself; it’s quite likely.
As someone who worked in the public sector and leveraged any number of freely available tools at my disposal to do data analysis, I find the idea both intelligent and worthy of consideration. While ‘pay-for’ software should never be ignored, neither should free software and anyone writing off a candidate solely for this reason alone should be discounted themselves.
Do you think a candidate for public office should be discounted for suggesting pay-for software should be replaced with free software? Do you think more free software should be examined with equal time and effort as pay-for as a cost savings measure deeper than simply face value? Would you support your own city considering free software alongside pay-for versions, why or why not? Whatever you have to say about this one, go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.