Government loses hundreds of millions by not adopting a proven, open-source solution

It was widely reported that  Ontario, Canada’s government lost out hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money by not adopting a proven open-source technology.

The aim was a very useful one - to implement an electronic health record system that can be used by the government, medical practitioners and patients as a central repository of verifiable patient record data. Of course, the system needs to be architected in a way to provide limited and selective access to certain individuals/organizations - in the interest of privacy.

The Govt. of Ontario started a project called eHealth Ontario that was implemented by contractors awarded by the government. However, as has been seen several other times - unless the technology is made open source, there is no way for the public (whose taxpayer money has gone into paying the contractors) to trust the quality of the solution.

The document criticising the government’s spending direction, has flayed the government for hiring 300 senior management consultants.

On the other hand, McMaster University has long maintained an open-source e-health record system called OSCAR, which is already in use in hundreds of clinics in the country. The technology is based on Java, MySQL, PostGreSQL, Tomcat and Linux and the estimated cost of deploying it in all of Canada’s clinics is CAD 20 million (as compared to 1 Billion already spent on eHealth Ontario).

What is most interesting is that the report is written by the Auditor-General of Ontario.

This raises once again the question of what our own National ID project (led by Nandan Nilekani) would look like. While the government should unquestionably hire contractors, willing to do the due diligence for the project, I see no alternative but to develop the solution in an open-source manner and not enslave ourselves to some code-monkey’s bad software.

P.S. Source code for the OSCAR project is at SourceForge and installation guide is at indivica.


Government loses hundreds of millions by not adopting a proven, open-source solution


October 10, 2009

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