Open Source Governance: State of the Art and Lesson Learnt in Italy (part I)

While Obama asked about the benefits of open source , the actual Italian Government shows little interest in open source, and it is time to talk back about the importance of the open source software governance.

The “Open Source Governance” conference – organized by the Italian Institute for advanced information technology at the end of October 2009 - an Italian event dedicated to the future of open source procurement, usage and management within the Public Sector.

The meeting, aimed at covering open source governance at large, investigated administrative, legal, organizational and technical issues with panelists coming from public administrations, universities, law firms and IT vendors.

Public Administrations.

Antonio Parlato – member of IPSEMA, co-organizer of the event – opened the event welcoming the audience and bringing on the table some experiences related to open source usage and innovation. Floretta Rolleri – member of board of directors at the National Centre for ICT in the Public Administrations on duty for open source – shared her wishes about a larger perception and adoption of open source within public administrations, leaving the word to Vittorio Pagani, an independent government administration professional.

Vittorio manages the Italian Open Source Observatory since its inception in 2004. Along with his group he built a repository of open source software for public administrations - thanks to the spontaneous cooperation on the part of the interested public administrations – few forums and a collaborative forge.

Talking about the open source observatory, Vittorio gave some statistics about open source usage by Italian Central public administrations, telling the audience that back in 2006 28% of public administrations were not using open source software, in 2007 that fraction was reduced to lowest terms (20%). Among advantages 68% mentioned economical reasons, while 15% of them said that the speed of software procurement was key.

But looking inside the Italian forge, it is clear that what Luigi Nicolais – former Minister of Reform and Innovations in Public Administration – wanted in terms of collaboration, never happened. In fact the Italian collaborative development environment guest only a dozen of projects. The collaboration platform was designed paying great attention to technical issues, but co-develop software public goods it is a lot about fostering communities, though. And by the way posing commercial restrictions doesn’t help.

Universities and poles of innovation.

Roberto Di Cosmo, professor at the university of Paris-Diderot and president of the System@tic Logiciel Libre working group gave a great talk on the results of the FOSS Working Group in the System@tic-Paris-Region competitiveness cluster.

The goal of this group is simple: to help structure the open source ecosystem in the Paris area by federating research laboratories, SMEs and big firms through R&D projects. The French government contributes to  competitivenes clusters‘ initiatives allocating public funding, actually they spent less than five millions of euros to sponsor five different open source projects. Selective credit allocation sounds realy well designed: first evaluation takes place in the Working Group, and it has to be relevant to the WG strategy. Then the project is evaluated in the Cluster, and its relevance to the cluster strategy is tested. At the very end the project is evaluated by the Ministry of Industry, to see if its quality and viability is appropriate.

The Italian budget law allocated almost the double on a year-basis, for three years in a row. The former Italian government spent even more, but how (and if) such investments will benefit the IT Italian ecosystem is still to be determined. IT projects financing should be carried on a merit basis, the French approach seems really consistent in this respect, and we should learn from it.

Open source governance legal aspects and vendors’ perspectives are for a later post.