A team of researchers, under a grant from ICFOSS, headed by Prof. Rahul De, Hewlett-Packard Chair Professor at IIM Bangalore, published a report on the “Economic Impact of Usage of FOSS in Government” in June 2015. The report studies the implementation of ICT in Education and Police departments in multiple states in India and concludes that adoption of FOSS in government entities can save thousands of crores of tax-payer money, which could in turn be utilized for better essential services for all.
Apart from economic advantages like saving ₹8300 Cr. by adopting FOSS in just two departments, the study also points to intangible benefits like fostering a maker (DIY) culture, shared understanding and encourages people to experiment and try new things.
Below are the key findings of the study. Full report is available here[PDF] for detailed understanding. Its released under Creative Commons Attribution -ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
- This study examines the impact of FOSS use in government departments in different states in India. The focus is on tangible and intangible impacts of FOSS. The study identifies barriers to adoption of FOSS and policy implications.
- Desk research revealed FOSS use around the world. This also provided a view on the state of egov in India and the pertinent issues that had to be examined. This was followed by an RTI application effort, where many departments were sent information requests. This approach largely failed to elicit any meaningful information as almost all the RTI applications were rejected on technicalities.
- A detailed field study was conducted over a period of seven months where team members visited government departments in seven states – Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Jharkhand. The study involved interviews of officials, IT managers, IT vendors and NGOs.
- Two main departments were covered in the study – Education and Police. These departments were chosen because they had actively considered FOSS use and, in some cases, were using FOSS.
- Around the world governments have adopted FOSS for tangible and intangible reasons. Tangible reasons for using FOSS are – for import substitution and to conserve foreign exchange; to improve egov capacity and to avoid vendor lock-in. Intangible reasons include – to revive entrepreneurship; to foster democracy and socio-technical alliances; and to transfer ICT skills to unserved populations.
- Academic literature is ambiguous on policy implications of FOSS. Studies, alternatively, show that under certain conditions FOSS should be advocated, should not be advocated, and may be advocated with reservations.
- Kerala stands out, amongst the states, for its adoption of FOSS for schools and the tangible and intangible benefits it has realized. Tangible benefits include massive cost savings, and intangible benefits include inculcation of a do-it-yourself culture amongst teachers and students and massive participation in the ICT education process.
- The other states did not adopt FOSS and incurred tangible and intangible costs. Tangible costs were directly linked to the price paid for proprietary licenses and training and maintenance. The intangible costs include – overwhelming dependence on vendors; disconnet of teachers in the ICT education process, including setting syllabii and exams.
- The police department at the centre had created the CCTNS system, for states to adopt to create a national crime records database. The system was implemented in two stacks – one on a FOSS platform (Java) and another on a proprietary platform (.Net). Different states chose different stacks, mainly based on their existing systems. Respondents in all the states felt that the choice of the stack was not theirs, and they had simply worked with what was given.
- There were no strong benefits or costs of using either stack for the CCTNS. The costs were being paid by the centre, hence the issue was not strong. In the state of Jharkhand there were some committed FOSS enthusiasts in the department who built additional products using FOSS.
Prof. Rahul De’ isalso a member of SFLC.in’s governing body.