VA sees problems in open-source development for VistA
Potential hurdles eyed in licensing, certification and governance
The Veterans Affairs Department sees advantages in using open-source
software to modernize its Veterans Health Information
Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) system, but it
anticipates several problems if it takes that step.
The VA issued a request for information Aug. 11 asking for industry to deal with anticipated concerns related
to open-source development for VistA.
The request follows a recommendation from an Industry Advisory
Council working group in May 2010 that the VA create an open-source
development program to update VistA. VA Chief Information Officer Roger
Baker has invited the group to submit advice on modernizing VistA.
VA moves closer to IT modernization decision
VA is seriously considering an open-source development program, but it
has reservations about configuration management, copyrights and
licensing, governance structure and certification and validation of any
open-source code developed in the process, the RFI stated.
“The VA is considering an ‘open-source’ model for VistA that
would enable VA to benefit from innovations that third parties could
make available according to a code-sharing framework,” the RFI stated.
The RFI lists three advantages of open source: the possibility of
greater innovation and integration of new capabilities; likely
improvements in capabilities, quality, reliability, and robustness; and
broader proliferation of common electronic health record software and
Meanwhile, open-source development also presents problems, the RFI stated.
Although the collaboration in the open-source community brings
options, it also requires an appreciation for the necessity of
effective configuration management; the sensitivities regarding
intellectual property such as copyrights and licensing, the necessary
governance around dynamic development collaborations essential to code
and "kernel" stability and robustness for the long term, and the
absolute necessity for certification, validation and review of code
before release, according to the RFI.
The RFI asks vendors to
respond to a series of questions about a potential open-source system
for VistA modernization. The questions included:
- What role should VA assume in an Open Source VistA
Ecosystem, as user, developer, maintainer, certifier, operator, and/or
- What role should non-VA sponsored developers assume in an Open Source VistA Ecosystem?
- What specific functions of VistA Open Source should the VA be prepared to fund?
- How would the VA go about participating and collaborating in the open-source community?
- How would the VA implement software components available
through open-source or licensed software channels into the mainline of
Vendors were invited to respond by Aug. 25 and to submit white papers and additional questions.
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.