Bogged down by the weight and contractual obligations of proprietary technology, governments are facing growing financial restraints when creating and maintaining modern applications to properly serve their constituents. Additional challenges, including growing cybersecurity threats and the need to source talent for modern innovation, have public sector IT professionals from the local to federal level scrambling to adopt technology that can fully accommodate the vast amount of data. In the pursuit of overcoming these challenges and improving public sector operations, the time for these governments to migrate and evolve is now.
Today, the evolving open source database market offers an incredible opportunity for local and state governments to manage and protect the data that’s critical to their organizations, while maintaining the ability to analyze said data. Government IT professionals want and deserve the freedom of choice to deploy the best applications for their given environment, while avoiding vendor lock-in so that they are not financially handcuffed to a specific solution. Open source provides governments with that freedom to deploy their databases in environments that protect their investment and provide cost containment.
The embrace of open-source adoption was initially slow; governments, similarly to most organizations, tend to favor IT solutions that are safe, viable and relevant to their workforce, with successful use cases as support. What they are learning, however, is that open source checks all of the above boxes – and its benefits are important in unlocking further innovation from the wealth of data that our local and state governments possess.
1. Upskilling (and Refreshing) the Workforce
Recent industry research revealed that only 8.1 percent of the public sector workforce is younger than 30 years old, a data point that stands in stark contrast to the private sector (23 percent) and signals a dire need for hiring support. As veteran government professionals begin to retire from the workforce, local and state agencies are sent scrambling to backfill their positions and handle their workloads.
Open source migration provides governments with the ability to both retrain existing employees, give up-and-coming members of the public sector workforce an opportunity to learn new skills, and hire for a skill that is becoming increasingly prevalent among younger employees. According to the 2021 Linux Foundation Open Source Jobs Report, 97 percent of hiring managers agree that hiring open source talent is a priority. The shift to open source opens governments up to a brand new talent pool that can potentially spearhead digital transformation efforts.
Open source software has an advantage when it comes to training the labor market because of its wide availability to users. Additionally, skilled technicians and developers can learn the software’s inner workings relatively quickly because its code is readily available. That helps facilitate maintenance, because even when software is no longer officially supported, it is always possible to diagnose, debug, and correct the open code. The government workforce can stay up-to-speed with its software and use, retaining expert status at all times.
2. Security Comes from Strength in Numbers
A prominent question among any organization considering open source adoption is, “Is this secure?” As it turns out, open source technology is just as secure as proprietary tech, if not even more secure.
Take the Log4Shell vulnerability, discovered in December 2021, for example. A Remote Code Execution vulnerability found in the popular Log4j programming library; it was considered one of the most serious security breaches ever by some. However, the vulnerability was patched within days and calls to action for organizations to update their software were immediate. The open source community complies with security regulations just as much as any other tech environment. The benefit of the open source community’s collaborative nature in identifying and fixing security issues with code is what differentiates it from proprietary tech.
The open source database PostgreSQL, for example, has staff built into its core offering that is solely dedicated to ensure cybersecurity standards. When major credit card companies are trusting Postgres with their transaction gateway process, and multiple law enforcement organizations use Postgres to protect its sensitive information, you know that open source’s security standard can be attested to.
3. Financial Freedom Accelerates IT Innovation
Although open source software is not a commercial product, and therefore is technically free of charge, responsible users always get support, maintenance and tooling from a commercial provider. This way, they combine the lower cost of ownership with the free nature of open source’s developer community and the freedom of use with open source software, which helps public bodies better contain their IT expenditures.
With open source, the source code is available for access and customization. Government agencies can easily tailor open source applications to meet their specific needs and requirements and scale larger or smaller, all while enjoying complete ownership of their applications. The reuse of code and customization capabilities allow governments to be cost and time-efficient with their applications, offering services to constituents quickly and effectively. In addition, agencies can coordinate together and share the development and implementation of their IT solutions in a manner that ensures satisfaction of all regulatory requirements. Pooling means in this way allows for maximum efficiency in projects.
Despite its many benefits, local and state governments face a large hurdle in tapping into the potential of open source database management: awareness. Prospective organizations considering open source ask: Can I migrate seamlessly? Can I maintain regulatory compliance? Can I keep my data more secure? Can I save money, or scale adoption over time? The answer to all those questions is a resounding yes. Add in the benefit of shedding vendor lock-ins, and the potential to work towards a more open and transparent government, and there are very few – if any – reasons to not adopt open source for public sector data needs.
The author, Chris Sortzi, is Vice President, North America Public Sector at EDB.