Government Tightens its Belt Government Tightens its Belt

be just as effective as proprietary solutions, as long as they provide good value and meet one of the state's seven different procurement rules.

The council determined that obtaining an open source software package falls under Oregon's rules for purchases with price tags up to $5,000; procurements in that category don't require competitive bids.

The most significant instance of open source software at ODOT is the Linux operating system on the mainframe used to process drivers' licenses. "We got the Linux environment for free, along with the IBM mainframe," Berry said.

Elsewhere in Oregon state government, there's a push to use open source software where appropriate. For example, the state data center uses open source system software and monitoring tools. "One of their stated goals is to use more open source software to keep the cost down," Berry said. Oregon's Department of Human Services uses the open source SugarCRM solution for customer relationship management.

But government officials must step carefully when assessing the cost of an open source solution, Berry cautioned. Although the software itself might cost little or nothing, if the agency needs help implementing it, that could push the cost into a different category.

In Oregon, a procurement requiring integration services would hit a threshold if the integration services cost more than $5,000, which inevitably they would, Berry said. "Then the initial procurement should have been for the software and systems integration," he said. Even though the software is free, the agency must conduct a competitive procurement - and the total price could, in some cases, come out higher than the price for implementing a closed source software package.

Similarly the use of open document format promises to cut costs for preserving government records in electronic form, said Theresa Pardo, deputy director of the Center for Technology in Government in Albany, N.Y. A government that archives materials in proprietary formats - such as Microsoft Word documents or Adobe Acrobat files - must buy the same software brand or convert files to new formats as the old ones become obsolete, she said. That wouldn't be the case for a government that stored documents in an open format. "It essentially liberates a lot of the purchasing for today, tomorrow and beyond from these kinds of proprietary requirements," she said.

Use Less Juice

Sometimes the simplest way to cut costs is to use less of something. Virginia saves millions of dollars simply by using less energy to run its information systems.

As part of a 10-year contract with Northrop Grumman to modernize the state's information infrastructure, the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) is replacing 60,000 workstations and monitors used by state employees. The new hardware, which complies with federal Energy Star guidelines, consumes less power than the old technology. VITA further optimizes performance through configuration techniques, such as standardizing the computers' transition into sleep mode when not in use.

"All those things make a big difference in energy consumption," said Lem Stewart, CIO of Virginia. By June 2009, when the state expects to finish refreshing its desktop systems, VITA should see the cost of powering those systems shrink by $12 million a year. "That's about a 35 percent energy reduction," he said.

Virginia's modernization program includes plans for continuous hardware replacements. "Every four years, we should be replacing everything," Stewart said.

VITA expects to boost its energy efficiency even further as it moves from its existing data center to two new ones, which also are designed and configured to consume less energy. One major project involves replacing 3,000 servers with 1,000 Energy Star-compliant machines running virtual servers.

"I think our total environment is going to land somewhere between $15 million and $20 million a year [in energy savings]," Stewart said.

Of course, replacing old technology with more efficient boxes requires a

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer