Statistics institute: moving to open source increases cooperation

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Moving to open source leads to increased cooperation between public administrations, says Carlo Vaccari, manager of software development at Italy’s National Institute of Statistics, Istat.

“We have employed dozens of wiki sites, which foster cooperation and help break the stalemate of data getting stuck in a dusty filing cabinet or lost on a co-worker’s hard disk.”

According to him, developing open source applications reinforce links with other public organisations. “We have developed Relais, an application that helps to merge and link archives built by software from various sources. Sharing this with others, has helped us strengthen relations with for instance our colleagues in Europa at Eurostat and with institutes in Bosnia, Kosovo and Tunesia.”

Istat also helps to develop ‘R Project’, a statistical open source application. “We have donated software libraries to R, and are moving away from using SAS, the proprietary alternative to R. We contributed to the statistical application Adamsoft, which is being developed at the Caspur computing-lab, just two kilometres away from our institute.”

Vaccari says adopting open source requires institutes to make adjustments in their organisational culture. “It changes how people work, from ‘I’m important because I’m a bottleneck, to I’m important because I share things’.”

Vaccari was one of the speakers at a workshop on open source for public administrations, part of ForumPA, an IT conference for public bodies, that took place in Rome on 14 May.

Vaccari says Istat started using open source software about ten years ago, to build its IT infrastructure. “We use it for proxy servers, for web servers, mail servers and DNS.” The institute in 2006 began to replace all servers to GNU/Linux, resulting in savings on licences, improving performance and reducing hardware costs.

The open source operating system is now the default OS for servers and Istat now also requires to have at least one open source application for every type of project. “That is not because we are strong open source advocates, but because of the embarrassingly poor performance of proprietary alternatives.”

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