A DECLARED pillar of the Digital Transformation Ministry, a year after its formation, is a commitment to working with local developers and using open source software (OSS) to develop solutions for TT''s digitalisation effort.
Saranjit Arora, on a December visit to Trinidad, agreed to answer some questions about how a national effort of that nature might be managed.
Arora is the founder of milandigital.eu and for the last four years has served as an external consultant to the European Commission.
In agreeing to answer questions put to him, he was at pains to ensure that I understood that he was speaking in his capacity as an open-source developer and champion and not a representative of the EU.
Arora explained that open source software is to be found everywhere, including in the most popular devices, from washing machines to smartphones.
"It is impossible to have any digital solution without open source," Arora said. "I do not know the precise balance between proprietary and open source, but it would not surprise me if many countries are already in the 'more than 50 per cent open source' camp."
What exactly is OSS? It's software that is released under a licence that grants users the right to use, alter and distribute the code collaboratively.
Because anyone can use the code or inspect it, OSS enjoys a high level of trust in developer communities.
While lower cost is sometimes cited as a reason to consider OSS, Arora notes that there are other value propositions including, "The avoidance of vendor lock-in, access to the underlying code to fix or enhance functionality, and most of all, the ability to distribute and deploy wherever one wants to."
While agreeing that issues of data technical sovereignty might encourage governments to prefer local data centres, Arora notes that there isn't any need to build software solutions from the ground up.
"Large home-build programs suffer from the typical large project failures," Arora said. "It is eminently sensible to use and modify (mostly localising) existing open source applications."
"I am also sure that public administrations in Europe at least, would be very helpful in this regard towards TT."
The EU's Open Source Observatory (https://j.mp/33w0iJR) gathers news about projects and software for governance that are under development.
There might be some need to retrain developers in open-source skills, but local resources and local talent would, he believes, deliver jobs as well as an improved human resource.
When it comes to deployment, Arora believes that five years is a minimum commitment for real change to become apparent, but for low-hanging fruit, it's possible to see improvements in as little as one-two years with political support and a strong government mandate.
The government, he cautioned, should be alert to efforts to create doubt by proprietary-solutions vendors, urging the creation of efficient internal and external communications, robust and widely understood strategy and goals and the appointment of appropriate personnel to leadership roles.
"I would highly recommend setting up a high-level combined digital transformation and open source steering group to look at strategic issues," Arora said. "You would also need an operational centre of excellence (for) such an open-source programme office, which can be combined with a digital remit too.
"I would also recommend one or two representatives from other governments or the EU and also an external open-source person who has such knowledge. This set-up will allow the government to obtain best-practice advice, but also be connected to Europe and possibly obtain funding and grants, and also reuse what is already available."
Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there.