WhiteHouse.gov has gone Drupal. After months of planning, says an Obama Administration source, the White House has ditched the proprietary content management system that had been in place since the days of the Bush Administration in favor of the latest version of the open-source Drupal software, as the AP alluded to in its reporting several minutes ago.
While the utility of Open Source software has always been clear, public sector organizations have not adopted them due to concerns over supportability and the vagaries of the procurement process.
The old joke used to be ‘no one got fired for buying IBM’ – this was the sense that going with a name brand was insulation from getting caught with a non-functioning product. In the incredibly risk-averse government sectors this is still a common attitude.
The second problem is the procurement of ‘solutions’. Government purchasing has frequently been tainted by claims of incompetence, ineptitude to down right corruption. Most of this comes from criticism of ‘bad procurement choices’. The fact it government procurement is seldom anyones ‘choice’ it is a competition where the scoring mechanism are set up ahead of time. At the end, you look up at the scoreboard and whoever has the most points wins.
This works well for hard goods, commodity items, and services with simple deliverables. It is not great for complex solutions where the best way to do something is not always clear before you look at the alternatives. To write a procurement after reviewing the options tends to look, to an outside critic, as bid fixing.
Open source solutions, where consulting services are your biggest cost doesn’t fit into this procurement model. It is much simpler to ask for a finished product and score the solution on what you see. In reality these ‘off the shelf’ solutions are seldom ‘off the shelf’. They need modification and configuration to work in an enterprise environment. It has only been recently that the idea of a procurement where the end result is not pre-defined has become an option. So called Joint-solution Procurements allow the selection of a provider based on capability then work with that provider on a solution.
Hopefully this high visibility endorsement of an open source solution will signal the build vs buy decision is again a legitimate question.