Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
10/1/2004
05:27 PM
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Living On Borrowed SCSI

The Government Open Code Collaborative is a great idea without a budget, which is one of the reasons its site has been down for most of the week. For the past several days, I've been working on a story about the GOCC without the benefit of ever seeing the site. The site, you see, was done in when a SCSI controller card, a donated piece of equipment from one of the GOCC's members, went dow

The Government Open Code Collaborative is a great idea without a budget, which is one of the reasons its site has been down for most of the week. For the past several days, I've been working on a story about the GOCC without the benefit of ever seeing the site. The site, you see, was done in when a SCSI controller card, a donated piece of equipment from one of the GOCC's members, went down. The collaborative may be cobbled together using a SCSI card here and a server there, but it's got a lot of promise.Modeled after the open-source repositories such as SourceForge.net and Freshmeat.net, the collaborative provides state and local IT organizations with building blocks for the types of applications they all use, including financials, human resources, and payment processing.

It's the job of Jim Willis, the collaborative's technology chairman, to make sure the site is working. But Willis has a day job too as director of E-government for Rhode Island's Office of the Secretary of State. Business has been slow for the collaborative since it launched in June, but Willis has big expectations.

"This is totally new ground," Willis told me earlier today. "Nobody's done anything like this before."

I'd been trying to track Willis down for the past few weeks to follow up on our original conversation in March about the collaborative. When I did finally reach him, he seemed only slightly disappointed that the site was down. Once the site comes back up next week, Willis is going to add some significant new software to the repository, he said, although he couldn't be much more specific.

The repository already offers anyone who's interested a piece of software that will provide citizens with automatic notification of government meetings. I haven't seen the application, so I'll have to take his word for it. Such an application is an important step in providing a more open government. In fact, Willis tells me, Rhode Island has passed a law that requires state entities to file all meeting notices electronically with the Secretary of State's office.

Willis believes that by the beginning of next year there will be a significant influx of applications to the collaborative's repository, once the elections are decided and the lawyers are done figuring out how states and municipalities can share software without breaking any laws. In most, if not all, cases, state and local laws governing public-sector intellectual property were not crafted with open source in mind.

Once governments see the advantages of shopping for applications on the repository rather than developing everything from scratch or paying vendors to do the work, Willis is certain the collaborative will expand. "(Open source) is a better way to develop anyway," he says. By writing software in modular components, states and other entities can more easily tweak it to meet their needs.

The collaborative is divided among member who've signed an operating agreement that lets them submit and take code as they wish and those who haven't yet signed the agreement - they're not allowed to submit code. The former group consists of the Massachusetts Information Technology Division, Texas Department of Information Resources, Utah Information Technology Services, West Virginia Auditor's Office, Wisconsin Department of Administration, Massachusetts cities Gloucester and Worcester, the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Albany County (N.Y.) Airport Authority, and the city of Newport News, Va.

Other members, who have agreed to participate in the collaborative but not signed operating agreements, are the Rhode Island Secretary of State office, the Pennsylvania Information Technology office, the Kansas Secretary of State and Treasurer offices, and the Missouri Secretary of State office.

I asked Willis why, if he's doing so much work for the collaborative, his state hadn't signed an operating agreement. Lawyers once again, Willis said, promising that Rhode Island would turn in its paperwork within the next couple of months. His state had a change of legal counsel while the collaborative was being developed and the new legal team wanted to start over with its own investigation of the collaborative.

"We don't have glaring concerns," Willis said. "But the general elections are coming up, so everything else takes a back seat."

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