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Initiative pushes enterprises to share code, fight disease

Collaborative Software Initiative is bringing organizations together to pool resources toward common needs, including creating the world's first open-source infectious disease management system.

Stuart Cohen at Grand Central Station in New York. Matt Asay

Most of the software in the world is written by enterprises that never intend to sell it. They write it for internal use.

Think of all the good that would come by sharing that code between enterprises with similar needs. Think long enough and you'll come up with Stuart Cohen's Collaborative Software Initiative (CSI).

CSI hit the news this week for some intriguing work with the state of Utah, which promises to deliver the world's first open-source infectious disease management system and break down the walls between enterprises to introduce a new era of sharing code.

At least, that's the promise. It starts with one state. Where it goes next is what CSI (and open source) is all about. According to CSI's statement:

The disease management system, which is being piloted in Utah this month, will be adaptable in all 50 states and available under an open-source license later this year. It is designed to support local health departments in the detection and investigation of individual cases and local clusters, while simultaneously meeting the state and federal needs of outbreak control, disease surveillance and epidemiologic research.

More than 100 people are contributing to the project. The core team consists of 15 members, including doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, and IT managers in Utah. The open-source software being used to build it includes Novell Suse Linux Enterprise Server, PostgreSQL, Apache HTTP Server, Apache Tomcat, Java, and JRuby.

The system and database are sitting on servers managed by Utah's Department of Technology Services and are accessible to all of the state's health departments.

This is what open source should be about: not petty bickering, but rather solving big problems with a collaborative approach. Cohen recognized while heading up OSDL that collaboration needs a coordination point, which CSI is providing to Utah and to a growing number of other organizations (as yet unannounced, but I know from talking with him and from elsewhere that they're in process).

Think of how much money organizations could save by pooling resources, and how much better software would be.