The journey of Totally free and Open Supply Application (FOSS) in India has been very long and lively. What began with a handful of Linux user teams in the 1980s has developed into a movement by means of collaboration amongst a numerous neighborhood of innovators. FOSS these days presents an choice design to establish electronic technologies for populace scale. As opposed to proprietary program, everybody has the liberty to edit, modify and reuse open-supply code. This effects in quite a few advantages — minimized costs, no vendor lock-in, the means to customise for nearby context, and better innovation by broader collaboration. We have viewed some fantastic examples of general public products and services being shipped by means of programs that use FOSS developing blocks, which include Aadhaar, GSTN, and the DigiLocker. Though the pattern is promising, considerably additional can be done.
Recognising its prospective, in 2015, the Indian governing administration introduced a coverage to stimulate open up supply instead of proprietary technological know-how for government apps. On the other hand, the accurate likely of this plan is however to be realised, largely because of to constraints in general public procurement procedures.
Many misconceptions continue being in the comprehension of FOSS, specially for GovTech, and it is crucial to clarify these factors to support boost the adoption of FOSS.
“Free” in FOSS is perceived to be “free of cost” and that’s why lots of imagine that the options primarily based on FOSS are not good plenty of. For illustration, FOSS is frequently mistaken to be a lot less honest and a lot more vulnerable, whereas FOSS can actually create far more belief in between the govt and citizens. FOSS communities can look at the open up-resource code for adherence to facts privacy ideas, assist come across bugs, and guarantee transparency and accountability. Numerous remedies launched by the authorities such as Digilocker, Diksha, Aarogya Setu, the Covid-19 vaccination platform CoWIN — created on top of open-source digital platforms — have benefited from worthwhile inputs supplied by volunteer open up-source developers. These types of inputs have immensely assisted in improving methods and building them additional robust.
A different crucial challenge is that it can really feel a lot easier to offer with a proprietary software seller who builds a bespoke computer software and can be held accountable for any failures. In the situation of FOSS, there appears to be an absence of a single crystal clear “owner”, which makes it more difficult to identify who is responsible. While this worry is authentic, there are techniques to mitigate it, for illustration, by obtaining the government’s in-home technological staff members realize accessible documentation and having crucial personnel to join relevant developer communities. This has been attempted out in various projects properly but demands to be strengthened even further.
India is at an inflection issue in its journey in direction of higher adoption of FOSS in GovTech — it has previously shown the likely of FOSS deployment via its use in important, population-scale jobs. With an IT workforce of more than 4 million workers and a software marketplace that is the envy of the environment, we presently have the required expertise. What we have to have is a concerted push to harness the most significant assure that FOSS holds — the possibility of collaborative technological innovation.
Here is a 4-action route to make this vision a reality.
The first action is to incentivise the uptake of FOSS in government. The government’s policy on the adoption of open-resource program requires all tech suppliers to post bids with open supply possibilities. Suppliers also want to justify in situation they do not offer you an open-supply alternative, and sourcing departments are questioned to weigh the lifetime fees and benefits of equally alternate options right before making a determination. Although this serves as a good nudge, policy can most likely go a action even more by formally offering higher weightage to FOSS-specific metrics in the evaluation standards in RFPs, and supplying recognition to departments that deploy FOSS initiatives, this sort of as, a particular class less than the Digital India Awards.
The 2nd stage could be to curate a repository of “GovTech ready” developing blocks that are licensed for use in governing administration and audited for stability compliances. Off-the-shelf FOSS application is normally not ready for immediate deployment by govt. Generating a repository of completely ready-to-use “GovTech-ised” creating blocks, can aid departments swiftly discover and deploy FOSS methods in their applications.
Third, FOSS innovations can be encouraged by “GovTech hackathons and challenges”, bringing jointly the open-source neighborhood to structure solutions for distinct dilemma statements determined by authorities departments. The finest innovations emerging from these problems can get a leg up by listing them on authorities procurement platforms this kind of as GeM. A single such obstacle — a #FOSS4Gov Innovation Obstacle — was just lately launched to speed up the adoption of No cost and Open Source Software package (FOSS) in authorities by harnessing innovation from the FOSS ecosystem.
At last, a credible institutional anchor is desired to be a household for FOSS led innovation in India. These an institution can convey collectively FOSS champions and communities that are scattered across India close to a shared agenda for collective impact. Kerala’s Global Centre for Cost-free & Open up Source Software package (ICFOSS) is a wonderful illustration of this kind of an institution that led to Kerala staying a pioneering state in the adoption of FOSS. A nationwide “FOSS Centre of Excellence” can convene funds, methods and potential-building help, building the significantly-essential momentum to establish world-course “made in India” FOSS merchandise.
This column initial appeared in the print version on August 30, 2021 below the title ‘Opening up open-source’. Singh is CEO MyGov and Nationwide eGovernance Division, Ministry of Electronics & IT (MeitY) and Pande is at Omidyar Network India. Sights are particular