Public service workers develop means to save taxpayers $1B

OTTAWA-GATINEAU, May 4 2012 - A flock of geeks that includes workers in both government and the private sector are claiming that the Government of Canada can pull $1 billion a year out of federal IT spending, and at the same time generate more Canadian jobs, and provide better public service.

Participants in GOSLING (Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments) describe themselves as "a voluntary, informal knowledge-sharing community of practice, involving civil servants and other citizens who actively assist the engagement of free/libre open source methods and software solutions in government operations." The GOSLING community refers to the adoption of open source methods within the public sector as "Government Official Open Source Engagement" (GOOSE).

At GOSLING's 10th Anniversary Party at the Parliament Pub on Wellington at Metcalfe on Friday afternoon, they're celebrating the arrival of "Intellectual Resources Canada (IRCan)" to self-sustained full operation after a highly successful money-saving proof-of-concept period assisted for several years by CIO Branch, Treasury Board Secretariat.

This month the IRCan Initiative completed its transition as a co-managed horizontal initiative amongst multiple projects and programs. Consistent with goverment's overall directions, IRCan's informatics systems are deployed on Shared Services Canada data centres and networks.

Joseph Potvin, Co-Coordinator of GOSLING said: "On Wednesday this week I attended the launch of Startup Canada, where Minister John Baird spoke about entrepreneurialism. Two of the successful startup businesses featured on the panel that evening mentioned that they 'really need Rails developers'. Well, the huge understory there was that free/libre/open source software like Rails has been helping Canadian startups start, compete and succeed." The GOSLING community, along with many others, has been fostering that same business savvy in government, with a lot of success.

At an evaluation meeting in 2011, managers from several of IRCan's tenant projects brought to light the outstanding results already being realized for government project teams during IRCan's proof-of-concept phase for their experimentation and development using free software and open source methods.

One Director from Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD), Health Canada was quoted in the meeting report as saying: "I would estimate that we have seen a 75% savings, but also we have significantly advanced our timelines. Without exaggeration, I would say that some of what would have taken us two years to put into place, we have been able to accomplish in three weeks through IRCan."

A senior manager from the Office of Small & Medium Enterprise (OSME), Acquisitions Branch, PWGSC explained: "IRCan saved us about $120K this year, but that's just raw IT cost. Our main savings have been in terms our ability through IRCan to rapidly develop the systems needed to implement our services, which is several hundred thousand dollars in time savings." He emphasized: "IRCan has actually changed the way we do business, and it has helped us become more mature and more efficient, so our DG is very supportive."

Another senior manager responsible for Emergency Management Systems at the Centre for Security Sciences, Defense Research and Development Canada commented: "IRCan has become very useful recently in support of new systems development, because all MASAS systems rely on 'open source' software. IRCan provides an appropriate development, tracking and testing environment, and stakeholder interface to key tools. Complications that otherwise would slow us down during development are well-streamlined under the IRCan service." The Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS) helps organizations across the country respond to emergencies.

Russell McOrmond, a Co-Coordinator of GOSLING, distinguishes the participants' formal roles at their jobs from the informal pub discussions and debates that GOSLING involves. "Voluntary participation in GOSLING from the beginning has involved nothing more than the open exchange of ideas amongst people in their personal capacities." He says that it started out one Friday after work in 2002 as an impromptu gathering of people inside and outside government who were planning the Canadian Government's first open source conference, which was hosted by PWGSC. McOrmond was one of the people present at the first gaggle, along with workers from Industry Canada, and the National Research Council. Potvin recalls: "After a very busy week, we just decided to get together at a nearby pub. Well, it never stopped. People have kept showing up to the "gaggle" every Friday at 4:30 for a decade." In any given Friday discussion at Parliament Pub, there are some regulars, and some new people.

Even after a decade, the GOSLING weekly gaggle has many more issues to talk through. "What the government's IRCan Initiative has accomplished, so far", said Potvin, is to enable and tangibly illustrate how the competent use of open source methods can achieve great savings in both time and money for government projects and programs serving Canadians", he said. "What IRCan provides is a management structure and set of online services to fully engage within government the open-market dynamics that have been driving adoption of open source methods elsewhere, and to do this within existing legislation, policy and direction."

"What's left for government to do is to get rid of its many mandated and opaque corporate monopolies remaining throughout government IT, and replace them with transparent service consortia." He explains: "Right now, large parts of the government IT market are still dominated by a few suppliers who, amongst themselves, are permitted to compete within a restricted market. But what most Canadian businesses and citizens want is for many suppliers to be welcomed in truly open competitive markets. That, in part is what we mean by 'open source logic'. This is how we can change government adoption of innovation from slow and marginal, to rapid and fundamental".

McOrmond says one of the reasons the gaggle has continued is because the topics are both important and wide-ranging: "For example, while IRCan demonstrates success in the government harnessing a full spectrum of business models for its development and distribution of software, people in the GOSLING community are also concerned with how the government regulates software." McOrmond is both a systems developer, and the operator of a blog that's become popular reading amongst intellectual rights lawyers. "Many of us have discussed how Copyright Bill C-11, and similar previous attempts, threaten to introduce deep changes to the law that actually run counter to market competition, and that erode private property ownership rights in Canada. Surely government should not be reducing the rights of owners to use devices for legitimate purposes."

Until the end of March this year, Potvin also worked at CIO Branch, Treasury Board Secretariat. "From the beginning IRCan was planned as a fully peer-to-peer arrangement", he said. The original MOU in 2005 between Treasury Board Secretariat and PWGSC envisioned "shared equity investments (in funds or in kind) by participating organizations in exchange for a role in governance". Following this plan, today IRCan is led by a Multi Project Steering Committee. "Because IRCan's governance is structured to have no centre, personally I've been planning my own exit for two years," Potvin said. "This past December when it was announced that the whole directorate where I worked at TBS was cut as part of general government downsizing, well, that timing actually coincided conveniently with the 2011 arrival of IRCan to self-sustained peer-to-peer operation by the Multi-Project Steering Committee." Now back in the private sector, Potvin has been asked to assist various project teams with their open source operations, and many of these will be leveraging IRCan. And he adds: "We're tabling a discussion today about 'Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments Worldwide' ".

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More information:

Internet retrospective & commemorative poster:

Please contact us with any questions, requests for interview, etc.

"Three Good Reasons" Party
4:30 pm, 4 May 2012
(RSVP: )
Parliament Pub,

  1. 10th Anniversary of "Getting Open Source Logic INto Governments" (GOSLING);
  2. Welcome to "Intellectual Resources Canada" (i.e. "Government Official Open Source Engagement" (GOOSE);
  3. Free Agent Flies-the-Coop

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