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Danger: Open Source in Government Financials?

 

July 28, 2017

The Myth of Open Source Danger

My colleagues have told me that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendor representatives have been telling prospective customers to be wary of FreeBalance software because it’s “open source.” Neither the FreeBalance Accountability Platform nor the FreeBalance Accountability Suite is open source. Like many large established enterprise software companies, FreeBalance uses open source technology and supports open source middleware. Who else does that?

You might have noticed the underlining in the bullet points above. That’s because FreeBalance uses or supports Apache, Eclipse, Java, Linux, MySQL, Red Hat JBoss, PHP, Spring, and Trinidad.

Yep, there’s a lot of FUD in the enterprise selling world.

Why Open Source and the Myth of Economies of Scale

Let’s be clear: IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP have made huge investments in proprietary software. These companies have lost economies of scale through so many company acquisitions. We’ve found that support for open standards and open source provides huge economic advantages. Just imagine the number of software developers needed to ensure that the portfolio of web application servers and databases supports the latest version of a portfolio of ERP offerings. That’s a huge engineering burden that vanishes in the open world. Large software companies are burdened with reduced economies of scale with each new acquisition.

That’s not to say that open source is easy to use and integrate. Fortunately for FreeBalance customers, that’s our burden. And, that’s an easier burden than supporting a number of proprietary databases and application servers.

Open Source Middleware Dominates the Enterprise Market

A 2015 study by Black Duck and Northbridge found that 78 percent of companies run open-source software. Wired, the following year, declared that open source had won, noting:

Some of the biggest companies in the world are not only using open source software, but open sourcing their own code as well. Earlier this year, Walmart released an open source cloud management system. ExxonMobil released an open source developer toolkit to help oil and gas companies adopt standard data formats. Financial giants like the London Stock Exchange Group, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo are among the companies backing Hyperledger, open source software that could reinvent the stock market. In short, open source is now a core part of how software is created not just by software companies, but by every kind of company.

Meanwhile, the Gartner Group declared in 2016 that open-source software (OSS) industry saturation is complete: today, 95% of mainstream IT organizations leverage nontrivial open-source software assets within their mission-critical IT portfolios — whether they know it or not and that by 2018, 70% of new applications will run on open source databases.

Open source Apache was the web server most active on the Internet in September last year, according to Netcraft.  And, Apache Tomcat is by far the leader in application server adoption according to Plumbr. The open source Drupal web Content Management System (CMS) is widely adopted in government. Meanwhile, open source WordPress, is the most adopted CMS.

Java remains one of the most used programming languages in 2017, in a top-ten list dominated by open source options. There are numerous ways to track popularity, yet there seems to be a consensus about the importance of Java (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7).

Among the widely adopted open source middleware projects is the Spring Framework and Hibernate. The FreeBalance Accountability Platform leverages Java, Hibernate and Spring. We use Drupal as a help system and support Tomcat. You’re reading this thanks to WordPress.

What about Open Source in Government?

Governments are adopting open source because of flexibility, affordability, and access to skilled labour. It’s more than affordability, as an article in ZDNet points out: more than just seeing the move to open source as a cost-effective alternative, public officials worldwide view it as a means of speeding up innovation in the public sector.

Numerous national governments have open source policies including: ArgentinaAustralia, Brazil, BulgariaEcuador, France, Germany, Peru,  Russia, Singapore, Spain, and the United States. A 2010 study described 354 government open source policy initiates globally.

What about security?

There’s a reason why the American military and intelligence community are large users of open source – you can read the source code and test for vulnerabilities. The notion that open source has more vulnerabilities is a myth. Meanwhile, hardly a week goes by without reports of serious vulnerabilities in ERP proprietary software (1) (2). It’s true that no software is hacker-proof, but it is also clear that social engineering and user problems are the most important security vulnerabilities.

Open Source is Powering the Future

My role at FreeBalance could be retitled “consulting futurist” – that’s because our mission to bring good governance worldwide requires extrapolating technology trends and predicting the impact to governments. These big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, smart cities, and cloud technologies are driven by open source. Look under the covers of the latest in-memory real-time big data commercial offerings and you see columnar, NoSQL and unstructured databases. MapReduce originated in open source.

Open source is “driving” automobile and mobile innovation.

The biggest advantage of “open” for governments is flexibility – to use any open source or commercial database – operating system – application server – web browser – hardware. Open is all about future-proofing by increasing choice. It’s about limiting vendor lock-in. Reducing technical debt. Preventing technical bankruptcy.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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