L.A. investigates open source to cut costs

City officials in Los Angeles are considering switching to an open-source platform for their computer systems to potentially save millions of dollars that could be redirected to other services.

Three council members — Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greul and Jack Weiss — introduced a motion last week asking the city's Information Technology Agency to provide an initial report on potential savings in 30 days and a transition plan in 90 days. Although city officials already use some open-source software, they spent $5.8 million on proprietary software licenses for the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.

With open-source programs, users can read, modify and redistribute the source code for free. The most widely known example is the Linux operating system, although some vendors charge for their Linux distributions.

Garcetti's spokesman, Josh Kamensky, said city officials are aware of transition costs. But the issue is worth investigating, he added.

"This is something local, state and federal governments around the world are doing and there's a reason for it," he said. "It pretty much stands to reason that if support and the software are available for free, that are going to be some cost savings."

For example, Kamensky said city officials could save $5.2 million by switching to OpenOffice, an open-source desktop computer suite that includes word processor and spreadsheet programs, rather than purchasing a Microsoft Office product at $200 per license for 26,000 desktops. The savings would go to a special fund to hire more employees for the police department, a major focus for city officials right now, he added.

Gordon Haff, a senior analyst and IT adviser at Illuminata, said business value should be the main concern in transitioning to an open-source environment.

"The decision-making for the state or local or federal government could be essentially the same as for a corporation," Haff said. "Does it save money when all the costs [are] taken into account? And that includes conversion costs, retraining costs, perhaps costs of getting and writing or converting software that doesn't run on an open-source platform."

Thom Rubel, vice president of government strategies at META Group, said one benefit of open source is that it forces government officials to inventory, map and review their IT systems, platforms and applications. But he said they must consider the business value before making a

decision.

"The jury's out, but I think it has a lot of potential," Rubel said. "It's a movement that isn't going to go away soon."

Featured

  • Cybersecurity

    DHS floats 'collective defense' model for cybersecurity

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wants her department to have a more direct role in defending the private sector and critical infrastructure entities from cyberthreats.

  • Defense
    Defense Secretary James Mattis testifies at an April 12 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.

    Mattis: Cloud deal not tailored for Amazon

    On Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to quell "rumors" that the Pentagon's planned single-award cloud acquisition was designed with Amazon Web Services in mind.

  • Census
    shutterstock image

    2020 Census to include citizenship question

    The Department of Commerce is breaking with recent practice and restoring a question about respondent citizenship last used in 1950, despite being urged not to by former Census directors and outside experts.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.