The Way Ahead

UNCTAD and United Nations provide guidelines, framework and recommendations to make the procurement system fair, transparent and open for all.

No vendor lock-in clause

European Commission report, ‘Guidelines on procuring IT solutions’ suggests that a no-vendor lock in clause should be included in all such contracts. The report also gives an example of such a clause “All standards, interfaces, protocols, formats or semantic assets implemented by the supplied solution and required for the full use of all data created or maintained using the supplied solution during the lifetime must be made available to providers of equivalent technologies who may be awarded a subsequent contract, with no additional costs. Any costs resulting from the lack of availability, license restrictions or royalties related to these standards, interfaces, protocols, formats or semantic assets shall be borne by the provider of the supplied solution.”

Core OSS solution

As said before, instead of inventing the wheel all over again governments can use core OSS solution and develop their system on top of that. This not only expedites the process but also provides an effective alternative. For example, Android is a core OSS solution; its information and source code is available publicly to create custom variants.

Industry analysis and prototyping

The first step to procurement should be in-depth industry analysis and study prototyping. It should be analyzed what the needs of the beneficiary are, what are the available solutions, what are cost and time constraints. At this stage RFIs and market research can be conducted. Secondly, a solution prototype should be created and provided in the RFP along with the project roadmap, so that potential vendors know the requirements of the project.

Documentation of Legacy systems

Its important to have a complete documentation of software with the government to prevent vendor lock-in. In proprietary software contracts ownership and control over mission-critical software program code remains with the vendor. The government feel forever stuck with the supplier even if the system no longer serves its purpose or the cost no longer justifies itself.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Another world bank report suggests “that solutions focus on total cost of ownership (TCO) over the life of the project and incorporate rigorous service-level agreements (SLAs) to qualify and evaluate suppliers as well as manage mission-critical service performance.” Proprietary solution can be a costly option when license fees and support services are taken into account. Sometimes OSS is ‘free’ upfront but can be costly down the road because of lack of support and maintenance services.


OSS is also referred as free but its free as in freedom and not as in cost. Meaning it still can cost a lot more. An open software needs a community which continually maintains, updates and improves it. The open source vendor also invests time and money to provide support and maintenance services like installation, de-bugging, testing, inclusion of new features, adaptations to the life cycle of its dependencies etc.

In words of Mike Gifford, “software on the Internet is only useful with an ecosystem of software that is around it. That ecosystem is constantly changing as standards are updated, people’s use-cases change, browsers are updated, and the legal frameworks that they all operate in is in flux and changes between jurisdictions.”

The opesourceprocurement.org website is a humble effort on our part to contribute to this vibrant ecosystem and provide valuable information and service to all Open Source stakeholders. Also see the other OSS organizations that are helping to make that more broadly understood.

Modular designing and breaking up tenders

UNCTAD report’s on ‘Promoting Local IT Sector Development Through Public Procurement’ suggests that large projects should be divided into smaller parts or modules so that smaller entities can also bid in these tenders. We now see most tenders in UK market accepting consortium suppliers.

Quality control criteria

The UNCTAD report also suggest that concessions on bid and performance guarantee should be provided. For example, quality control criteria should be used instead of previous experience.

Interoperability and Integration

The key to interoperability is the use of well-established standards and specifications.” When the technology is based on open standards, interoperability and integration with other solutions developed by other agencies which are based on same open standards, gets easier.