Chan said he believes in open technology approaches – including re-using solutions developed by other states – whenever feasible to avoid unnecessary expenses. The strategy was cemented by the success of myBenefits.ny.gov, a 2008 portal he helped develop as CIO of the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. In building the site, his office modeled technology from Wisconsin Access, a benefits website developed by that state.
“We took all the underlying technology and converted it into open-source technology,” Chan said.
Chan sees cloud computing as a technology for supporting re-use of proven applications, especially among state governments. “If you look at some of these federal programs, the rules are very similar from state to state, a portion are almost identical – so why do we need to reinvent these systems so many times?” he asked.
“Because you can stand up an environment so fast, cloud will allow you to experiment with different ideas,” he said. “It’s a platform that will allow us to be more innovative.’
And I holler: Comrade! The OTDA is one of my favorite examples of how open source can transform state operations, and Dr. Chan is one of the best state CIOs working today.
Over the last couple years, many of us involved with open source in government have had discussions about what it means for citizen coders to become involved in state, local and federal efforts. There are all kinds of legal, ethical, and logistics questions that haven’t been answered. Everyone seems to be solving them individually, but it’s not well-coordinated. This means that agencies who want to engage developers are wasting valuable time trying to figure out the “right way” to work with the public.
The domain is large and already bearing fruit; I think we’re all enthusiastic about CivicCommons, CrisisCommons, and a host of public service oriented application development contests in many major cities.
This is the ignite presentation I gave for the Mil-OSS WG2 conference today. It’s a tremendous group of sandal-shod revolutionaries who want to bring open source and the US Department of Defense together. You can sign up for the mailing list here. If you use your imagination and insert a lot of stumbling, fumbling, and false starts to this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how it went. You can find the full presentation here. [Update: Josh posted a video of my presentation, so you don't have to imagine it.]
I was really pleased to read the announcement that Lockheed Martin’s social networking platform, EurekaStreams, was released as an open source project today. Lockheed is a very conservative company, and while they’re happy to use open source internally and on projects for their customers, this is their first experiment with actually running a project themselves. I think it’s a big deal, not just for Lockheed Martin, but for large corporations who are considering a more open, more innovative approach to software development. And yet, Dana Blankenhorn hates it:
I don’t see anything in Eureka Streams I can’t do in Drupal, or a number of other high-quality open source projects that have existed for years. Lockheed has reinvented the wheel — why?
So here’s the nice thing about the open source community: competition. If I think I’ve come up with a better way to solve a problem, it can easily compete with the incumbents. Low barrier to entry, we say. Let the best ideas win. Unless, apparently, the best ideas come from a company I don’t like.
Although it may be simple to conflate the Apps for Democracy and Apps for America contests with the exciting new Apps for Army contest, they really couldn’t be more different. Together they represent an exciting experiment in what it takes to pull communities together around a problem. Though they all offer cash prizes to the winners, they each took a slightly different approach, with different results.
Cash incentives are somewhat controversial in open source circles. Most old-school advocates for open source development strongly prefer developers who are personally invested — famously, those that “scratch their own itch.” Developers who are paid a salary to work on software are also invested, but perhaps less zealously than those who are solving a problem they are afflicted with themselves. Developers who are working for glory and cash prizes, the model used by the “Apps for…” competitions, is yet another class of developer, and despite the excellent submissions to the previous contests, there are valid concerns that the quality and sustainability of the code is not as good as it could be with a different set of incentives. Time will tell, of course.