I imagine Barry Polley expertly swinging a machete to clear a path in a dense Honduran jungle. If Barry's never cleared a path in a jungle, I'd be surprised. Because that's exactly what he's doing at the Ministry of Justice.

Barry has authored the Ministry of Justice Open Source Discussion Paper which was just released. It's a broad and deep document that talks about open source in general and talks about specifics of why the New Zealand Ministry of Justice needs to adopt open source strategies. (Full disclosure: I reviewed a draft of this paper and provided some small amount of feedback)

Here are some highlights from the paper:

"The Ministry needs an explicit strategy to embrace the adoption and use of OSS [Open Source Software]. Our vendors are moving to OSS without our encouragement or consent...We cannot choose to keep OSS out of the Ministry; our choices are to accept our vendors' decisions as they occur, or to adopt OSS for strategic benefit on terms of our choosing."

"In summary, the adoption of OSS can lead to a more stable, supportable, and cost-effective IT environment, and should be pursued for pragmatic reasons. OSS adoption is not a panacea, and should proceed or not based on a particular package's merits. Given two equivalent packages, one open and one proprietary, the OSS one would be the preferable choice for reasons of better supportability and lower lifecycle cost."

"Knee-jerk prohibition of OSS is no longer feasible or cost-effective."

"An internal checklist for selecting an OSS product should include the following:
1) If there is a proprietary competitor, does the OSS alternative do at least one thing better?
2) Is there an active development community? (Not necessarily a large one)
3) Are there developers who are paid to contribute?
4) Is there a documentation effort that's kept current?
5) Are the licence terms clear and compatible with other licences?
6) Can support be obtained? (Must be available, affordable, with QoE/QoS specified)
7) Is the adoption rate stable or growing?"

"The Ministry, along with the entire NZ government, will need to revise its procurement practices to reflect the reality of OSS."

"Large consulting firms' traditional bespoke waterfall model of development will not be able to compete in any important sense (functionality, cost, or time-tomarket) with OSS adoption." 

"In some cases, core developers of a given OSS product may be available to perform custom development, and if that custom work is of general use it can be released to the community for review and ongoing maintenance."  

We at SilverStripe are very pleased to see this paper. We agree wholeheartedly with the spirit and content of this paper. Details are spelled out as to why and how the Ministry of Justice (really any government entity in New Zealand) should adopt open source.  

Barry concludes by spelling out ten policies. I'll just highlight a couple here:

"Policy 1: Open standards
Choose software that implements open standards wherever possible."

"Policy 2: Prefer OSS
When evaluating software as part of a technical solution, preference is to be given to OSS alternatives over comparable proprietary solutions."

"Policy 3: Review licences
A simple way to comply with this policy and reduce risks associated with licence terms is to require that MoJ adopt only OSS using one of the widely-trusted licences: http://www.opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical"

"Policy 7: Commercial support
Adopt OSS products that have commercial support options available."

"Policy 10: Documentation
Adopt only OSS that have an ongoing technical documentation effort associated with them. Many of the OSS benefits outlined in this paper accrue from simply having access to source, but if that source is incomprehensible, those benefits are much reduced."

Justice is now taking the lead for open source adoption in New Zealand government. But the points made in the paper apply very well to the commercial sector, too. This paper points the way forward for how software should be developed and adopted.

The path through the jungle is now a little bit easier to navigate. Thanks Barry.

p.s. I gave some presentations at the e-govt barcamp and the agile barcamp that relate to many of the points in the paper. 

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