Leader in Technology: Government?

Ronald Reagan once said, "The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them away." But, I'm not so sure that holds completely true. When it comes to adopting more efficient information technologies, it seems that government is leading the way, at least when compared to private organizations of similar size.

Where I work I have advocated the use of more efficient technologies, or technologies that present the best value to the company. In order to conserve money in these difficult times I have suggested switching to either open source technologies or cloud computing solutions. But, so far my ideas have been brushed aside as being too radical or too risky. In fairness, I didn't invent the ideas that I have presented. I just advocate the use of technologies which I have seen successfully implemented elsewhere.

I just recently read about how the French National police have saved millions by switching to Ubuntu from Windows. The organization had previously stop using Microsoft Office products in favor of the more economical OppenOffice, so they were familiar with open source software. Originally planning to upgrade to Vista, they decided on switching to Ubuntu because of the dramatic costs savings. They plan on moving all of their 90,000 computers to Ubuntu Linux by 2015. Their goal for this year alone is to migrate 15,000 computers from Windows to Linux, and have completed 5,000 so far. In general it would seem that the French government is serious about reducing IT costs through adopting open source technologies, they have multiple federal agencies using those types of technologies.

There are signs of change here in the United states as well. As CTO of Washington D.C. Vivek Kundra successfully implemented the use of Google Apps, an application-domain cloud computing service. Those actions not only saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also increased the efficiency and transparency of the organization. And now that visionary leader is the nation's CIO, so I look forward to broader applications of open source software.

Open source software has been used by the federal agencies in the United States for a while now, but it has mostly been limited to high-tech sections of government. The NSA has developed their own enhancements to Linux in order to create an ultra-secure computing environment. The FBI uses LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Pthon) to power their emergency response network. The Library of Congress uses Linux clusters to digitize the historic documents collections. And NASA was probably the first to adopt the use of open source software, they used Debian Linux to control space shuttle experiments on mission STS-83 in April of 1997. With Mr. Kundra in charge of national IT we may see the use of open source and cloud computing expand greatly.

I do see some open source software being used in business, but it is usually by engineering groups and not officially sanctioned by IT. Our IT organization does not posses the necessary skill sets to support technologies like Linux. I would suggest that if business leaders want to reduce their information technologies expenditures without reducing service levels, they should seek out IT leaders who are familiar with alternative technologies and not afraid to break the status quo.

Government has a bad reputation for being inefficient, but at least from a technology perspective that does not really seem to be the case. It looks as if governments around the world are adopting efficient, best-value technologies at a faster pace than private sector organizations. If the best minds are not in government, then they must be hiring the best consultants.
Published: 2009-03-14
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