Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: IT plans need open-source solutions

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Officials should follow internet giants rather than shackling organisations to proprietary software.
Open-source software is used by the likes of tech company heavyweights Facebook, Google, Amazon and even Microsoft, to build massive, global interconnected systems. Photo / AFP
Open-source software is used by the likes of tech company heavyweights Facebook, Google, Amazon and even Microsoft, to build massive, global interconnected systems. Photo / AFP

To the surprise of nobody, really, the Auckland Super City IT systems transformation looks like it derailed almost right from the start, and is now a train wreck of billion-dollar proportions with nobody to answer for the fiasco.

Originally costed at $200 million, the project blew out to $500 million by 2011.

Now, we're looking at well over a billion dollars and there could be more to come.

It's we who funded the project, that are left carrying the can.

Russell Brown at Public Address has pulled together a good timeline of events, for those who wish to read and weep.

Despite recent public IT systems fiascos, such as Novopay and Health Benefits' FPSC and the NZ Police payroll and human resources overhaul, our authorities are not unique in being unable to get such projects off the ground.

Take a look across the Tasman and you will find more, much larger public IT projects that have fallen over spectacularly, swallowing billions of taxpayer dollars with precious little to show for the money and effort.

In a number of cases, the failed IT projects in Australia have ended up at court, or before federal and state watchdogs.

Unlike the Australians, we seem unwilling to dig deep into the million and billion dollar IT failures.

There is probably a valid argument for just walking away from the big expensive messes that too many public IT projects end up in, rather than spending more money and time pursuing those who were given money to build the things.

The Australian watchdogs have had modest success in their campaigns, but even if they succeed, the money's usually gone.

Accountability is great, but a legal win isn't going to deliver that shiny new IT system.

Looking for recurring patterns in recent years, the problem with public IT projects seems to be two-fold - first, there are no experienced and knowledgeable geeks at local and central government level who put users and customers first.

There is probably a valid argument for just walking away from the big expensive messes that too many public IT projects end up in.

I'm not talking about chief information officers and other executives, I mean people who can code and understand IT systems.

Secondly, public IT projects are awarded to vendors with proprietary, closed "enterprise grade" systems.

This creates that infamous "commercial in confidence" lack of transparency, vendor lock-in and, as we've seen, huge budget blowouts and delivery delays.

If your organisation has committed to licensed software (which can be tied to specific hardware often) for the next few years, that's it, bite the bullet and spend more to make it work, or dump the lot and start from scratch.

Does it have to be this way, in an era when open-source software is used by the likes of tech company heavyweights Facebook, Google, Amazon and even Microsoft, to build massive, global interconnected systems that use open standards: systems that are innovative, reliable, delivered on time thanks to competitive pressures, and are profitable rather than money sinkholes?

Oh, and those open-source-based solutions work too. So well, in fact, that they can be used to build businesses and public services that run on top of them.

By now there should be more than enough examples of successful, large-scale enterprise open-source solutions for our authorities to at least trial, rather than automatically tying themselves to proprietary software - and burning through enormous amounts of cash in return for nothing in the process.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

Read more by Juha Saarinen

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