News, Open Source

SF Open Source Policy

The question that we kept on asking ourselves was: how do we get greater adoption of open source software (OSS) in San Francisco. Our attempts at a bottom-up approach had been relatively unsuccessful. We had some pockets of success in various departments but not at a level that one would consider really meaningful.

So our efforts began turning to a top-down approach. Securing sponsorship wouldn’t be too hard as the value of open source was clear: lower cost, greater agility, and more innovation. We also had a string of recent successes using OSS: Mayor’s website (WordPress:) , RecoverySF (WP), DataSF (Pligg), Twitter/311 integration (custom PHP). So we had a few choices ahead of us: Executive Directive from the Mayor; issue a policy from our IT governance body; and most difficult a change to our administrative code. We knew that the Executive Directive would be the easiest approach but would really be more symbolic than anything else since it wouldn’t be tied into the procurement process. The OSS policy seemed ideal but it wouldn’t be easy to get through the various IT committees in a reasonable time frame and result in a watered down policy.

The first task was securing senior sponsorship and putting together a game plan. It was agreed that the policy would be sponsored from the Mayor’s Office but drafted by others. In putting the policy together, we had a general policy that referenced very detailed templates like our total cost of ownership spreadsheet and the step-by-step software evaluation methodology. By taking this approach the focus of discussions remained on the policy and not the nitty gritty details of how to actually conduct an evaluation. Also this gave one flexibility of altering the evaluation method as feedback came in.

After drafting the initial policy, it was presented to the main IT governance committee (COIT) to let them know that the Resources subcommittee would work through the details. It was introduced as a draft policy to the Resources subcommittee on Dec 2nd, 2009. The discussion lasted for over two hours. All feedback was incorporated prior to the vote on January 6th meeting. However there were two amendments that were raised which would which would impact the scope of the policy: (1) applications only (2) license costs over $100K. The first amendment seemed arbitrary and without any rationale. The second change would raise the bar even further for when the policy would apply. In the end the amendments remained.

There were two options to take on the Jan 21st meeting: vote on the weakened policy or seek to reverse the changes with the vote. With some last minute outreach to garner enough support, the latter was presented by the Mayor’s Office and after some other minor amendments in discussions, the policy passed as originally intended.  Wow!

The policy was released in such a short time frame (for govt) for the following reasons:

  1. Executive sponsorship and support
  2. Clear success stories (RecoverySF, DataSF, etc)
  3. Detailed procedures separated from overall policy
  4. Internal champion to lead the grunt work

I’m hopeful that others can accomplish the same or even go further in their own city. If you do, we’d like to hear about it.



2 thoughts on “SF Open Source Policy

  1. This is great news Jay.

    I am working with other Open Source enthusiasts ( ) on increasing the awareness and participation in Open Source networking software and creating an open application delivery controller.

    Also, recently I have been working on creating a model for evaluating Open Source solutions and presenting on how IT departments can reduce costs using open source. I am interested in seeing the policy and see how you address the topics of costs, ROI, etc.


    • Jay Nath says:

      Great to see that more and more people are thinking about how to help organizations introduce OSS into their portfolios. Perhaps there are other ideas out there such as minimum %age of OSS in portfolios that increases over time. Or taxes on COTS.

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