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Public administrations that grasp the benefits of making their data publicly available will increase their use of free and open source since open data and open source face comparable threats like initial lack of support and a fear for the impact on organizations, according to a number of experts in open data.
"Using proprietary tools for open data is not as useful as using open source", says Jeanne Holm from Data.Gov, the open government initiative of the US government. "Open source makes it easier for organisations, even those without many funds, to start working on sets of government data. This type of software gathers the intelligence of the whole community", she adds.
Holm was one of the keynote speakers at the Semantic Interoperability Conference 2012, which took place in Brussels on 18 June 2012. "I'm a fan of open source, so a little biased. But this type of software gives governments a way to modernise their IT systems, without falling out of time as they would with proprietary software."
Holm also says that public administrations do no longer consider open source to be controversial. "Not all of them see the benefits yet. Open source takes them away from their comfort zone."
A similar explanation is offered by Julia Glidden, eGovernment expert and Managing Director of a UK-based IT company. IT departments can come up a million excuses for not using open source, she says. "They can point to robustness, security and other technical limitations." Glidden says that the switch to open source in governments is largely a matter of change management. He goes on to say that open source threatens the career structures of IT staffers. It changes the relationships they have with the big IT-vendors and impacts the large budgets they enjoy. "They see open source in terms of risks to their careers, their sense of place in the organisation. It is safe to stay with what they know." She confirms the same is true for open data. "They fear, for instance, that if the data is abused, they will lose their job", she adds. “On the plus side, public administrations can now find help in the market to use open source”, says Glidden. It has reached a critical acceptance threshold. There are suppliers, there are service providers. That is not yet the case for open data. There is a need for consultancies to help them with the mental change of approach that is needed for this kind of information sharing." Glidden concludes that open data and open source are mutually reinforcing. "Closed government is dead, it is just a matter of time. They will move to open source, they will move to open data".
Katleen Janssen, a legal researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law and ICT at the Catholic University of Leuven is less sure of the link between open data and open source. "If open data becomes part of the philosophy of the public administrations, they will also move to open source. If open data is something they do because everybody else is, or because they are forced to, the effect will be limited."
Both Glidden and Janssen spoke at the Open Data Day organised by the government of the Flanders region in Brussels on 15 June 2012.