Western Cape Government driving local OSS uptake

by oneafrikan on September 9, 2005

This in from CITI in the Cape:
If Africa in general, and Cape Town in particular, is to compete globally it has to move from being a consumer of proprietary software and become a developer and user of Open Source software. With this in mind, the Western Cape government is moving from a neutral to an aggressive phased open source approach.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by Cape IT Initiative (CITI), entitled “FOSS: An Opportunity to Rise to Fame or Are We being Misguided”, delegates heard how the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape government were looking to phase in Open Source as well as skill up their staff in OSS support.

“Africa needs to enter the information age as a developer and not only a consumer. There has been much development, but Africa still needs to spend less money on buying proprietary software if it is to compete internationally,” said Mymoena Sharif, e-governance manager City of Cape Town.

Sharif went on to say that the level of free software was an indicator of good governance and sustainable development in national cooperation policies in government.

The City of Cape Town has a number of initiatives in various stages of implementation and Sharif pointed to these as an example of the level of commitment the regional government has toward Open Source.

The Smart Access project has seen 17 000 OSS users and 490 workstations, while the Library Standardisation Project is looking to use OS as an alternative to replace their existing (PALS) system which Sharfif said is expensive to run.

The local government is also using the Patient Health Records Management System which is integrated into the Provincial Health system and allows one file for each patient accessible at all times. The local content management system utilizes OSS and Linux and Sharif said the system has proved more cost effective and allows for easy and speedy modification.

“The opportunity exists for Cape Town to become a developer and not just a consumer, however, there does need to be some venture capital expended to promote SMEs in an open source cluster,” commented Sharif.

Exciting news for Open Source developers, and indeed all of Cape technology development, was the announcement of a FOSS competency Centre at 44 Wale Street in the City Centre. This will serve as a reference centre and will operate as a facilitator to ease OS implementations.

Sharif ended her presentation by looking at possible next steps, commenting on the need to establish a focus group on the role FOSS can play in e-government, the promotion of FOSS in learning institutes, the need to increase the government OS skills base and the creation of a database of OSS competent companies.

Kayode Adesemowo, technologist at the centre for e-innovation at the Provincial Government of the Western Cape followed Sharif, reiterating the need for OSS skills development in local government.

“The government will be looking to implement OSS, but we remain pragmatic in all our business decisions. We are looking to move from our current position of ‘neutral’ in OS implementation to a more ‘aggressive’ stance,” Adesemowo explained.

Adesemowo also told delegates that his department was implementing OSS in a layered fashion, bit-by-bit as he skilled up his staff. While this may not save money in the short term, he reckons that mid- to long-term definite cost saving will be realized.

The provincial government is currently implementing GNU/Linux on selected desktops and is looking for an OS alternative for Livelink – the document management system. It is also currently doing a skills audit and will be establishing a FOSS R&D competency centre.

In line with its drive to promote OS, Adesemowo also told delegates that the 10th of September will be declared ‘Software Freedom Day’ in collaboration with the University of Cape Town and the University of the Western Cape.

Andre van der Post of the South African Revenue Service closed the list of speakers, focusing on the role of government in driving new ideas and innovation – particularly in the area of OS.

“Government has a unique ability to change the popular attitude. They can take the risk and push the boundaries,” said van der Post.

“This is very necessary, because at the moment the average age of software developers is between 28 and 32, whereas the average age of OS software developers internationally is between 16 and 21.”

Van der Post says this is because international coders have the trust of their communities.

“Unfortunately there is still a lack of trust of young developers and South Africa cannot afford for this to continue if we want to remain globally relevant. South Africa must adopt a new attitude to OS. Open Source is here, right now for the enterprise, it is the strategic path with business relevance and we must be prepared to change our thinking to accommodate this,” he concluded.

Does anyone have any comments on the role of OSS in South Africa / Africa in General?

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