The South African Government has approved a policy on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) use in Government in 2007. This policy document encouraged the utilization of Open Source Software in Government.
The policy was however, never fully implemented and as a result many of the envisaged benefits were never realized.
Free and Open Source Software has the potential to create opportunities for Small and Medium Enterprises where they are competing with established giants in the industry with little hope of being successful.
A Free and Open Source baseline study conducted in Limpopo highlights the fact that the Province is not fully ready to embrace Free and Open Source Technologies and to use it to its full potential. Much has to be done before the Province would be able to reap the benefits offered by these technologies.
Limpopo has realised the need to develop a strategy to focus its efforts towards the structured implementation, support and good governance of Free and Open Source Software. In 2013, the GITOC initiated the development of a Free and Open Source Software Strategy and LEDET was entrusted with the responsibility of developing the strategy and its implementation plan. The first draft of the strategy was circulated in 2013, reworked in 2014 and the strategy was endorsed and recommended for approval by the GITOC meeting of 19 February 2015.
One of the factors that are discouraging small companies and individuals from entering the ICT market is the high-cost of software and the fact that the market is dominated by established companies with access to technologies and patents, which are acquired at high-cost and in-turn leads to a high-total cost of ownership for the end-user.
A study conducted by the province indicated that very few ICT start-ups survive for more than 6 years. The study also showed that 75% of ICT SMMEs are in Capricorn and Waterberg districts. This is a clear indication that small ICT businesses have an uphill battle and that the ICT business in the Province is not equitably distributed.
With the introduction of Free and Open Source Software the rules of engagement have changed. Small companies and individuals no longer have to pay expensive license fees which mean that they are no longer excluded from new technology developments and entrance to ICT markets.
FOSS supports ICT spending with local companies, keeping that money ‘onshore’.
FOSS encourages a valued local skill base.
Open source supports innovation, local solutions and learning.
Open source supports local content creation and consumption. Localization is one of the areas where FOSS becomes a preferred option because of its open nature. Users are able to modify FOSS to suit the unique requirements of a particular cultural region, regardless of economic size.
Open source will raise the profile of Limpopo in the global economy, and will narrow the digital divide.
The value of Information and Communication Technology to create job opportunities are well understood on both national and provincial levels. The introduction of broadband in the Limpopo Province is one initiative towards the objective to create better lives for all.
The economic impact of broadband infrastructure is higher when promotion of the technology is combined with stimulus of innovative businesses that are tied to new applications and software. The broadband, which is an ICT infrastructure project, will however only be sustainable if it is used to its full potential. To achieve the vision of ‘Broadband for All‘, all efforts should be made to ensure that people across the province can access it and have applications and software available to make meaningful use of it. Free and Open Source Software will play a very significant role in this regard because of the following characteristics that come with the software:
Everyone everywhere can use it without paying any license cost and the software is freely available to download.
Enterprises can pay for the support they require and negotiate at their own terms.
SMMEs and entrepreneurs can use the software to create small businesses e.g. online multimedia, web-design, e-commerce and many other types of businesses without paying the high cost of proprietary software.
Free assistance is available to start-ups in the form of online communities and organizations.
Unfortunately Limpopo is not 100% ready to use Free and Open Source Software and certain steps will have to be taken to level the playing fields. FOSS has the potential to assist poor communities to become part of the mainstream economy, which in-turn is becoming more and more dependent on knowledge and the Internet which are characterized by information, innovation and knowledge as critical means of production.
SUMMARY OF THE FOSS STRATEGY
All relevant ICT policies in the Limpopo Province must consider the use of Free and Open Source Software and highlight possible uses of Free and Open Source Software.
When any software is procured by the Limpopo Provincial Administration or government agencies the POLICY ON FREE and OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE USE for SOUTH AFRICAN GOVERNMENT (2007) must be adhered to.
All planning done for IT related training must consider the training of employees in the use of Free and Open Source Software.
All e-Government systems in Limpopo should be FOSS friendly, thus no technology should be used that clearly disadvantage FOSS users.
Departments, municipalities and agencies should take responsibility to create an awareness of the use of Free and Open Source Software. Pilot projects demonstrating the value of FOSS should be encouraged.
All Government departments, municipalities and government agencies should focus on the use of Free and Open Source Software for job creation and the use of Free and Open Source Software to assist non-ICT SMMEs to become more sustainable and productive.
Whenever new and emerging technologies like, Cloud computing, big data, mobile computing etc. are investigated or piloted, FOSS must be considered during the initial stages.
PROGRESS TO DATE
Limpopo created a Free and Open Source Lab and has researched many Free and Open Source technologies.
Some of the technologies researched are:
Geographical Information Systems and software
Web Development Frameworks
Open Source Development Platforms
Open Source Databases
Open Source Network tools
Office Productivity suites
LEDET has piloted an Open Source Network Monitoring tool in the Office of the Premier.
The Limpopo Department of Education and LEDET are currently piloting an offline-content solution in 10 schools.
LEDET and The Limpopo Department of Education were successful in securing R1,4 million. from Tirelo Bosha – Public Service Improvement Facility for “Offline Content to Schools without Internet Connectivity” phase 2 which will include both laptops and hand-held tablets installed with Free and Open Source Software.
LEDET secured a partnership with Suse, one of the major Open Source Software multinational companies in the world. This partnership will assist in capacity building, education and training on the development and implementation of Free and Open Source Software.
LEDET conducted a baseline study of Free and Open Source Software use in Limpopo and incorporated the findings into the Free and Open Source Strategy.
You can download the strategy here : Lim-fosstrat