One promise of the United Nations (UN), when it was founded in 1948, was to be the voice of those less advantaged and disenfranchised. And within that promise was the thought that the UN could and would lobby on behalf of those who could not act on their own behalf. The United Nations' history is rich with successful intervention, especially for the aged and children. I am reminded of this continued work as I leave Sydney, Australia, late in March, 2006, having seen the Bears of the World on behalf of UNICEF. This decorative display brings a smile to all who move about this collage of bears representing each world nation with unique and vibrant colour schemes. Each individual or group seeks its homeland of today or the heritage of their ancestors. And it is all great fun on behalf of humanity's most vulnerable constituents, children. UNICEF remains UN's most cherished and successful endeavour.
Approaching its 60th birthday, UN has undertaken another very meaningful and important initiative that seeks to continue its original mandate of again assisting those who are in need of help. Through its International Open Source Network (IOSN) initiative via the Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is again enabling those governments who cannot necessarily create their own ICT ecosystem, by helping to reduce costs.
Governments throughout the world are and will remain cash challenged. In the USA, healthcare costs are increasing 8 to 15 percent a year, with much of that burden falling on both the states and the federal government. Emerging nations and mature governments throughout the world face the same daunting challenges. The UNDP, through its IOSN initiative, will enable widespread adoption of Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) and create at least one avenue for nations to deal with the "unsustainable cost of government."
FOSS, based on Open Standards, provides governments with a sustainable and sufficiently robust software model that fosters collaboration and ever-increasing innovation. In addition to the obvious cost advantage for acquisition, the ongoing operational expense will also contribute to lowering the cost of government. By engaging the worldwide open source community, governments can benefit from each others' efforts and share applications that each have built. Remember, every government does the same things: collects taxes, provides assistance to those citizens in need, register births, deaths, marriages and motor vehicles, houses prison inmates and issues drivers' licenses. So why do individual governments continue to build applications on their own and most often do a very poor job of it? By incorporating the best tenets of FOSS, increased collaboration and innovation, governments working together can create meaningful value for their citizens and for each other.
At no time in modern history has it been more important than now for governments to band together and foster meaningful information exchange. And in this age of information and communications technology, standards and the means by which standards are set become vital. The attributes of open standards and the model for establishing open standards are what will allow for sustainable information exchange, interoperability, and flexibility. Where public funds are concerned, adopted standards should be vendor neutral and open to all to implement without royalties. Otherwise citizens will not be able to consume information produced by the government without having to purchase or pirate software.
FOSS mimics the ubiquity of the Internet and can transcend geographic and political boundaries. Its communal nature unites humanity, helps bridge our numerous divides, and can continually contribute to closing the digital divide.
Former Chief Information Officer
Commonwealth of Massachusetts