In an essay on the failure of governments to use Open Source Software (OSS) and open standards, Tom Adelstein bemoans a situation that I understand only too well:
Recently, I received two requests to assist a local government and a university in the same area of deploying justice databases. The requests involved implementing a new, comprehensive application to provide services and a tracking system using a web-enabled database-driven application. The requirements of the applications seemed simple and with the use of the Global Justice Data Model, I estimated delivery within 90 days. In both instances, the people controlling those projects dismissed implementation of the standards-based model. What should one do when government entities miss their opportunities and disregard new standards? The general public realizes the time pressure to meet new homeland security objectives and want fast progress. Those who make information technology decisions today can effect the public safety in the near future. No enforcement agency exists as yet. Here's even more of a rub: The local government unit will spend $125,000 on an existing software system which will face deprecation within two years. The university may fail to deliver on the second phase of its implementation. The cost could have come in at $45,000 using Open Source Software (OSS) such as Linux or FreeBSD, the Apache Web Server, the MySQL relational database and a combination of the Java program language, Perl, PHP and/or Python. Such systems exists in Rhode Island and at the US Census Bureau, if one needs a precedent. Additionally, the same $45,000 would have paid for both systems and if others wished to deploy it, no further costs would exist for them. Finally, the money to build the system would have come from existing public funding.From The Open Source Dilemma for Governments
Referenced Mon Jan 05 2004 21:09:37 GMT-0700
Tim goes on to speak specifically about the Amber Alert standard and the relative costs of an OSS solution and a proprietary solution. I have a whole PowerPoint deck on a national alerting system that I put together a year ago. There's a desperate need and properly implemented, it fills more needs than just Amber Alerts. Imagine point specific alerts based on your personal information from multiple players delivered to you and way you like. The trick, is not building it---as Tom points out, its fairly cheap if the expense is shared---but operating it in a secure and reliable manner. That's where the money is.