Free & open: Open source no longer just a backstage hero

Updated: November 11, 2021 11:51 AM

The time has come for the world and enterprises to acknowledge the open source activities that contribute to the collective successes of any economy

Abhishek Singh, President & Ceo, NeGD_ CEO, myGov_ MD & CeO, Digital India Corporation and Varad Pande, Partner, Omidyar Network IndiaAbhishek Singh, President & Ceo, NeGD_ CEO, myGov_ MD & CeO, Digital India Corporation and Varad Pande, Partner, Omidyar Network India

By Srinath Srinivasan

Open source systems are often skipped by consumers and enterprises as these do not get the conventional line of marketing. However, there are lots of freeware that are built with an open source model today that are as capable and dynamic as the paid ones. A recent report by Omidyar Network India (ONI) and Boston Consulting Group estimates that by 2030, 10 high potential National Open Digital Ecosystems (NODEs) in sectors such as health, skilling and agriculture can collectively create new value of over $500 billion, equivalent to 5.5% of India’s GDP, while generating an additional $200-plus billion in savings for the country.

“Open source can help reduce costs, avoid the trap of vendor lock-ins, and also build greater trust within the ecosystem by allowing a community of actors to examine code for adherence to data privacy principles, help find bugs, and ensure transparency and accountability. For example, CoWin and Aarogya Setu, built as open source digital platforms, greatly benefited from inputs provided by the open source developer community,” says Varad Pande, partner, Omidyar Network India.

According to Pande, 85% of India’s internet runs on FOSS. India is already home to rich ODEs like India Stack, UPI, National Digital Health Mission to name a few. In India, in partnership with ONI for mentorship to participating teams, the ministry of electronics and IT has launched Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) for governance challenge to come up with open source CRM and ERP product innovations in the fields of health, education, urban governance, agriculture or any other field related to e-governance.

“We have received over 1638 registrations and 581 idea submissions. The government continues to encourage digital adoption via open source programmes like this, rewarding the winning entries with cash prizes among other growth opportunities,” says Abhishek Singh, president & CEO NeGD; MD & CEO Digital India Corporation (DIC) at Government of India.

Open source systems also enable solving global level problems with the help of large global communities. “Open source systems represent what internet truly meant to represent – democratisation of technology,” says Ankit Muellner, Advisory Board Member, Muellners Foundation, a technology capital research foundation.

With what is currently in use, known as Web2, proprietary IP gained importance since its adoption boomed in late 90s. However, the evolving Web3, which promises decentralised networks, open source systems are expected to gain traction and create new ways of solving problems. There are open source equivalent to ERP, CRM, banking solutions, complex IoT systems, insurance underwriting built by developers.

“It is often misunderstood that the developers do not get compensated for their contribution and so the quality of the work eventually gets affected. This is not true,” says Muellner. “Any open source foundation or platform would have finances allocated which go out as bounties or rewards to developers as they contribute to its open source projects. The developers also become the face of the system. Everyone involved becomes a marketer,” says Muellner.

Open source systems are expected to bring about a cultural shift which will give rise to decentralised networks and autonomous organisations operating over the networks, marking the advent of Web3 into the daily lives of netizens. Blockchain technology is expected to drive this change.

Open source systems come with challenges that require strong attention. Civic DataLabs State of FOSS in India report points out that India still lags behind the global landscape in building sustainable home-grown projects.

“Certain key challenges, particularly when it comes to FOSS for GovTech, range from a lack of awareness, misconceptions about FOSS being less secure than proprietary software, a lack of customisation for government use, and a preference for engaging with known vendors rather than a dispersed ecosystem of developers, among others,” says Pande.

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