Andy Kelk

Open sourcing our work – why we’re doing it

Today we released a tool that we’ve been working on as open source software. The tool is called Cassius and it’s a Clojure wrapper around Cassandra data; go over and have a look at it because it’s really cool. However, this post is not about the tool itself, it’s about why we chose to release it as open source software.

This is the first time that this organisation has open sourced software; as far as I am aware, it’s also only the second release of open source software by a public sector organisation in Australia (Geosciences Australia open sourced a tool back in February of this year). Government agencies have become much more open in the data they release and events such as GovHack show the value of that. But releasing open source software is still a rare occurrence in the Australian public sector. So why are we doing it?

Benefits of releasing open source software

There are multiple benefits to an organisation from releasing open source software. Firstly, it benefits the developers involved. The developers get recognition of the work they’re doing beyond the team they work in; they get the pleasure of having their hard work used by a wider pool of people. In this case, it’s the work of Chris Zheng, Sergey Marakhov and Tushar Pokle.

Secondly, releasing software under an open source license benefits the community. As with many organisations, we are consumers of open source software, platforms and tools. We have contributed patches and feedback to some of the projects we use, but it’s great to be able to give back more substantially to the community.

Open sourcing what we’ve done is also of benefit to the team using that software. Rather than having a small pool of developers working on the code, we now have access to a much wider group of people using it who can also provide patches, additions, enhancements and fixes.

Lastly, it is also a benefit to the whole organisation. It is a very public proclamation that we take technology seriously and we take our responsibilities as a public organisation to benefit the community seriously. Australia Post talks publicly about a digital future; investing in technology is a demonstration beyond words of our commitment to that future.

Other public sector OSS releases

While we are not a government agency, as a public sector organisation we pay close attention to the Australian Government (AGIMO) Open Source Software Policy which recommends that “Australian Government agencies will actively participate in open source software communities and contribute back where appropriate.” Overseas there have been many successful open source software initiatives from the public sector; for example, in the UK where the BBC and the UK Government have released lots of open source tools and software. We hope that more of the Australian public sector will release their work to the community under an open source license.

What’s next

We’ve been through careful review of the licenses and artefacts involved in this release to make sure that we’re following established practices around confidentiality, licensing, intellectual property and so on. In large part that was due to the tenacity and persistence of Jeremy Mawson who wrangled various stakeholders to bring this to life. We’ll continue to review and develop Cassius and we’d love to open source more projects in the future. Watch this space.

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