With open source software running core parts of its internal IT systems for at least five years, the NSW Office of State Revenue is no tenderfoot when it comes to open alternatives. CIO David Kennedy recently spoke to CIO to reflect on the challenges and achievements the government agency has had with open source technology and to offer advice to other CIOs on how to develop a successful open source strategy.\nKennedy says open source technology is here to stay and the real challenge facing CIOs lies in delivering services around them.\n\u201cNot all open source coders are fanatics,\u201d Kennedy says. \u201cOpen source is worth considering because if it fits the purpose in the whole \u2018value-for-money\u2019 equation, entertain the idea. Look at Web servers -- Apache is ahead and so too is Firefox with Web browsers.\u201d\nThe OSR is one of the principal revenue collection agencies of the NSW government and processes about $15 billion a year in taxes. According to Kennedy, a focus on modernising the agency\u2019s core systems from proprietary platforms to Java-based, Web-enabled systems has given rise to an open-framed environment, from backend to front end, using a mixture of Windows and Linux. Much of OSR\u2019s backend infrastructure currently runs on Linux, and a great deal of development work has been done on the \u201copen\u201d infrastructure.\n\u201cEveryone thinks open source is free but nothing is ever free,\u201d Kennedy says. \u201cWe apply the same rigour to open source that we do to commercial products.\u201d\nKennedy strategy is to evaluate the merit of all software on its capability to address a business need, as well as its cost, regardless of whether it is open source or proprietary. For example, OSR\u2019s enterprise service bus (ESB) was built on open source, but when the agency went looking for a product it investigated an offering from Cognos as well as open source alternatives.\n\u201cOur core focus is to move from being a technology provider to being a service provider,\u201d Kennedy says. \u201cWe will do what is best and open source is high as a strategic direction, as is virtualization. [Open source] should be treated as no differently, but not ignored.\u201d\nThe OSR\u2019s information management strategy has three pillars -- simplification, rationalisation and modernisation \u2013 and Kennedy claims that open source software has become a key enablement technology in maintaining that strategic approach.\nWhile the OSR\u2019s official open source strategy has been in place for some time, there are indicators that suggest adoption was driven by activity at the coalface as much as it was a top-down directive. Some five years ago, NSW OSR\u2019s then-CIO Mike Kennedy told lt;igt;Computerworldlt;\/igt; the agency was using commodity hardware running Linux, which it has continued to do ever since. At first Debian GNU\/Linux was used, but in 2002 the system was migrated to the commercially-supported Red Hat Enterprise. This makes the OSR a very early adopter for an organisation of its size and complexity.\nPage Break\nOver the past five years the OSR\u2019s open source strategy has become more formally recognised within the agency, but the Kennedy says the role the technology depends largely on where organisations intend to deploy it.\n\u201cOn the backend Linux is not high risk -- if you want to have a go, it\u2019s a very minimal risk,\u201d Kennedy says.\n\u201cFor us, open technology gave us the ability to easily look at the capability versus risk. Also, the speed to market in the Java environment we have enables us to make changes and keep our systems flexible.\u201d\nKennedy also praises the open source Java space, saying \u201cyou don\u2019t have to write everything from scratch\u201d, as compared to commercial application environments where \u201conce you want something else, you have to build or buy it\u201d.\n\u201cWe\u2019re always looking to optimise costs,\u201d Kennedy says. \u201cOpen source won\u2019t ever be free, but the ROI from a productivity and efficiency gain perspective is what drives it.\u201d\n\u201cOpen source provides another avenue to meet the business need. From the business perspective, they don\u2019t care -- they have accepted that we make the decisions.\u201d\nKennedy believes that if any CIO were asked if they believe in open standards and open systems, they will say yes -- \u201cas long as it is on a mainframe\u201d, he says.\n\u201cYou may as well ask the CIO if the Internet is the way forward,\u201d Kennedy says, adding that most organisations have been flirting with open source and open standards for quite some time.\n\u201cIf Microsoft brought out a version of Linux no one would bat an eyelid. Vendors are happy to leverage open source, but the question is whether CIOs will do the same.\u201d\nIn addition to Linux, the OSR\u2019s mix of open source software includes MySQL, PostgreSQL, Xen, Firefox and OpenOffice.org, which Kennedy says \u201ccompetes well\u201d with Microsoft Office since version 3.0 was released.\n\u201cThe last thing you would get rid of is Windows on the desktop, but since XP has been stationary for nearly 10 years a lot of people will look at an alternative,\u201d Kennedy says.\nKennedy says that according to OSR\u2019s developers, running Linux and Firefox on the desktop \u201cmakes their lives easier\u201d, especially when it comes to Web application testing.\n\u201cWhen we develop for the Web browser we can\u2019t really debug IE in the same way we can debug an open source browser. Firefox gives a strategic advantage, for free.\u201d\nMoreover, the OSR is a supporter of open source penetration testing tools, which Kennedy believes are more user-friendly than their commercial counterparts because \u201cthousands of people are looking at the code\u201d.\nRecently, Kennedy has been overseeing an ESB integration layer and enterprise reporting with BI based on an open source Pentaho backend.\n\u201cNow we are getting a lot of traction with the business, because it is realising the benefits,\u201d he says.