Open Government Collaboratives

by Bryan Kirschner on October 28, 2008 01:33pm

The city of Matsue, Japan is using Ruby to promote regional economic development. One of the unexpected highlights of the recent GOSCON, was a gentleman from Matsue coming up to me after I had given my talk about open source and Microsoft and saying "I am using IronRuby. I love it." 

It was a nice moment because - even in the best of times - public sector IT typically has resource constraints that make it tough for them to think aspirationally about technology.  And right now isn't the best of times. 

But if you step out of the current challenges for a moment, it was a reminder that whether you're a developer at Microsoft or at the Census Bureau, you have the potential to contribute to something people would love. (Why do people at the north end of my zip code take 5 minutes longer to get work? On a percentage of the mean basis, that's huge. Does the disruption of the grid by the lake have that much of an impact? Yes, I am a long-time GIS nerd.  Ironically, there is a nerd GIS - although, sadly, it is an acronym and not a density plot of nerds per square mile...).

On a more practical level, "open government collaboratives" was a theme of the conference.   This is a consortium-based approach to development -f or example, multiple cities cooperating to develop a web toolkit for libraries.  (Brian Prentice and Andrea Di Maio at Gartner call this "community source.")  The good news is that both open source and Microsoft can play useful - and complementary - roles in this. 

Open source has demonstrated a set of practices, and open source communities have developed a pool of technologies - Plone, for example, was a popular CMS that government collaboratives customized.

I wound up speaking to a couple folks about things like enabling single-sign on with Active Directory into their Plone-based systems.  This is exactly what Sam Ramji describes (in graphic detail) as our open source strategy: as the application ecosystem (including open source applications) on Windows grows, products like Active Directory become more relevant. (In the case of Active Directory, and System Center, those applications don't need to be on Windows.)

I started my talk with two simple declarative statements: open source is neither a fad, nor a magic bullet.  Microsoft products are neither a fad, nor a magic bullet (mildly interesting diff for a slow day: live google).

More importantly, over and over again, this was the right starting point for a face-to-face conversation with the IT managers attending GOSCON.  For most, this is where they are as well - considering all the tools in the toolbox, trying to determine the "best tool for the job."  That can be challenging, but it's a bilateral, constructive challenge we can work together on-to find a solution set that developers and users will love.

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