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Open source is about much more than price, says California Air Resource Board's CIO

Open source is alive and well in government, but not necessarily because of price. Agility and morale-boosting among IT workers also deliver huge value for CIOs.

Cost savings are nice - and open source delivers them in spades - but price is just one benefit of open source. According to Bill Welty, CIO of California's Air Resource Board, price isn't even the most important factor.

"Increased agility, responsiveness to internal clients, and team-building" are the real value drivers of open source, Welty insists:

"We are a can-do shop," he said, explaining that IT staffers and agency engineers collaborate to solve problems. There's an expectation that IT can do things quickly, and staff members have little patience for procurement cycles. "In fact," he added, "we have a lot of smart engineers who download open source software themselves, and if they think it is going to work for them, they ask IT to put it on a server and support it."

The Sacramento-based ARB, whose 1,200 employees work with the public, the business sector and local governments to reduce air pollution, has used open source development tools as long as it's had a Web site. It runs the Linux operating system with the Apache Web server, a MySQL database, Perl and PHP coding and a Swish-E search engine. In fact, 65 percent of its applications run on Linux, and 67 percent of its applications requiring a database use an open source product. The ARB shares with other state agencies tools it has developed, such as an assignment tracking system and a regulatory docket system.

"Open source brings competition to the IT marketplace," Welty said. "It brings innovation and lower costs. It encourages creativity and boosts morale for staff members because they are building valuable tools."

It's wonderful when you find a CIO who understands her role and thrives in it. IT isn't about low-level monkey work to support the real business. IT can and should be the real business - or a key component of it. Welty clearly gets this. Other organizations like the Christian Science Monitor also grok how open source can be a positive factor for change, and not the cost center that it has traditionally been.

Take a look at the State of California's Open Source Working Group website. Just one more example that shows, as Welty indicates, that there's a lot more open source going on than we normally hear about:

"Most IT shops are too busy finding solutions and pursuing them to tell you that they do it," he said. There are extensive mission-critical open source applications being used in the California state government, he added.

If you peruse that link to California's open source site above, you'll discover some of them.

The article is a must-read and has a wealth of information for any CIO that is considering dipping a toe into the open-source waters. I'll leave you with just one piece of advice:

"Why get trapped for life into paying huge amounts of money for licensing which forbids you from being able to fix the broken code you have been sold," wrote one state employee, "when there are free alternatives that are often more secure and offer more features?"

Why, indeed.

Via John Scott. Fascinating stuff.