Bryan Sivak, Chief Technical Officer of the District of Columbia, admits there's a lot of talk about the use of open source in government, but the issues are a little more difficult than that. He celebrates a 20% Linux data center, the Design for Democracy competitions, and the introduction of secure online absentee voting through the Open Source Digital Voting Foundation (OSDV). But meanwhile, he says, the procurement documents for software systems often have no answer filled in the 'Alternatives' field: "What open-source solutions have you considered?"
The sticking points are licensing, support, and an honest assessment of cost. Some licensing terms of open-source still make government leery. Proprietary software vendors pride themselves on service and setup, with certain out-of-the-box expectations, while open-source solutions don't necessarily guarantee any particular benefits or fitness of purpose, so configuring it to an agency's needs, and servicing it, are unknown costs.
Yet the shift is happening. Sivak talks about the creation of "Code for America," and envisions the development of "a civic stack of software that can work anywhere," created with the aid of legal and marketing framework provided by the new organization.
Bryan Sivak was appointed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty in 2009 to the Cabinet post of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for the District of Columbia. As CTO, Sivak leads the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), an organization of more than 500 staff that provides technology services and leadership for 86 agencies, 38,000 employees, residents, businesses and millions of visitors.
Sivak has over 15 years of experience in building software and internet technologies and organizations. In 2002, he founded and developed InQuira, Inc., a multi-national technology solutions company whose products are used at top private and public sector organizations. In 2005, he moved to London and opened the European office of the company, which he grew from zero to 30% of the company’s revenue in four years.
Prior to his work with InQira, Sivak founded Electric Knowledge LLC, which provided the world’s first Natural Language Search engine available on the web. Electric Knowledge eventually merged with Answerfriend, which was the basis for the formation of InQuira. Sivak holds a BS in Computer Science from the University of Chicago.
This free podcast is from our Open Source Conference series.