Free Like a Puppy: Open Source Software
Open source software. It’s free for the taking. At first glance, that sounds like a cost-effective solution for the global health community, which is one that needs to get the most out of each and every dollar. During and after the December 2019 Global Digital Health Forum (GDHF) conference, an active online discussion has been underway revolving around the true value of open source software to the global health community and the search for a sustainable business model. The Global Digital Health Network February 27th meeting will feature Merrick Schaefer of USAID presenting on the Open Source Valuation study, along with colleagues from CommCare, OpenMRS and iHRIS. SystemOne’s perspective as a for-profit software company is offered as a voice in this conversation.
- FOSS, or Free and Open-Source Software, as it is commonly called, should be renamed for our industry to reflect its true financial reality. The definition of FOSS means freedom to use software without restrictions, but that definition is often confused with zero cost. Software ownership is not free. A system needs maintenance and data. FOSS is free like a puppy at the pound--the dog costs nothing, but then you have years of food and vet bills in order to keep your new pet alive and healthy. The current name misleads procurement managers in ministries who may not be IT savvy and anchors the price low for all of us, setting unrealistic expectations for total cost of ownership.
- The search for a sustainable software model likely lands somewhere between open and closed source solutions - shared source perhaps. While SystemOne controls the code for its products, skilled IT staff in Ministry of Health (MOH) departments manage servers, Tier 1 and 2 support tasks, network and all programmatic management, according to their capacity. SystemOne fills in gaps. Most MOH do not have developers with the necessary time and capacity to manage and develop code for each project’s unique IT health solution needs.
- The decision about software selection does not have to be ideological to make good financial sense. Software selection should fit the needs of the user--all of them. Our products, GxAlert and Aspect, are uniquely mapped to users’ connected diagnostic needs and add tremendous value in the fight against infectious diseases such as TB and HIV.
- Sustainability is a process. We respect country decision makers, their right to their data, and their desire for ownership. This is an evolving discussion often on a country-by-country basis, one that we welcome at SystemOne. As in the rest of international development, there is promise in the public/private partnership model and we are actively exploring options in this arena.
If you are interested in reading more about SystemOne’s approach to the open source software debate, refer to our Open Source Q&A for more information.