The open source revolution begins: the new guidelines for the acquisition and reuse of software in the Italian Public Administration have been published
Public Administrations must publish all code in open source and evaluate existing software before developing new products
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The digitalization of the Public Administration has reached a turning point. The law establishing that Public Administrations should preferentially acquire open source software and must publish all developed software in open source, finally is complemented by a set of guidelines that have come into effect.
By following these Guidelines, administrations can (and must) publish all software acquired through the years and all software acquired from this point forward on Developers Italia.
We first mentioned the guidelines in a 2018 post entitled, “Open Software and Public Administration: Online the Guidelines for software acquisition and reuse,” in which we announced the launch of a public consultation. During the consultation phase, wee received many valuable comments which we were able to implement for good measure. This showed us that the time is ripe to fully adopt the open source paradigm.
With the guidelines now in effect:
- Public Administrations will have to carry out a comparative assessment before acquiring new software, which will favor open source solutions (including those reused by other administrations).
- The development of new software and the purchase of proprietary software licenses must be justified.
- All software developed on behalf of the Public Administration must be made available through open source in a publicly accessible repository and included in the Developers Italia catalog.
Reusing software makes it possible to end duplicate expenditure (consider all the local authorities with the same needs) in favor of the consolidation of a smaller number of safer and more mature software solutions. We therefore expect these changes to have virtuous repercussions on the market.
Competition between suppliers will still be possible but will be based on the ability to advance existing shared software, not on lock-in or pushing an administration to renew its licenses through technological constraints (like it is now). This change will help to open up the market to new software houses, including smaller ones, and reduce information asymmetries between them and the companies that usually supply Public Administrations.
From law to practice
A law is not enough without the tools to effectively apply it. This is why we have prepared:
- Technical attachments to the guidelines. These describe simple actions that a software provider must perform in order to fulfill the release obligation of the administration commissioning the development. Public Administrations need only include this attachment to the tender documents and the supplier will take care of the rest.
- The software catalog on the Developers Italia website will contain detailed descriptions, screenshots and direct links to the source code, facilitating a full and immediate evaluation of the available solutions.
We designed the software catalog as a real search engine that uses its crawler to automatically search for all public software on code-hosting sites (i.e. GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, etc.). Just insert a simple metadata file entitled publiccode.yml into the source-code repository containing descriptive information like software functionality, requirements, the identity of the owner, the entity responsible for maintenance (and the expiry date of the maintenance contract), areas of use, compliance regulations, etc.
To declare the chosen code-hosting site, each administration will follow a simple one-off procedure and, from that moment on, the crawler will find all published software and relevant updates. The crawler will also be able to cross-reference the acquired information and show the variations (forks) of the same applications.
Cataloguing public software will also make it possible to monitor and better understand the technological needs of administrations, paving the way for new governance actions and optimization of supply and development.
And there’s more: the Developers Italia catalog will also be able to host open source software not developed upon request of the Public Administration but that is of potential interest for all.
Companies, developers, maintainers: if you think your software falls into this category, insert a publiccode.yml file into your repository and enter the catalog.
Today begins the second phase of our work: the Digital Transformation Team and the Agency for Digital Italy (Agid) will assist the Public Administrations in the open source release of their software, in accordance with the guidelines.
Public Administrations: it only takes a few, simple operations to fulfill this obligation and enter the Developers Italia showcase. It’s a necessary step towards becoming a virtuous digital administration.