Costs and benefits associated with ODF

Lower costs, flexibility and inventive solutions

In theory, governments choosing the Open Document Format lower their ICT costs. The open standards strategy enables suppliers to compete on a level playing field. The competition will without doubt lead to innovative new solutions and improved processes. As it turns out, this is already becoming true. Across Europe, public administrations switching to ODF report benefits, from lower ICT costs, increased flexibility and better ICT governance.

Let's be clear about the benefits for governments of using open standards. Taking a cue from the World e-Parliament Report 2008, written by experts for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, open standards first of all, make it easier to share documents, across different software for editing and managing documents.

Open standards allow search engines to turn up better results. Open standards make it possible to manage intensely cross-linked documents, such as legal texts and legislation. Open standards allow multiple output sources, to a website, to a printer, or to a machine specialised in making information accessible to those with access disabilities. Open standards prevent problems with formatting. ODF in particular allow much stricter security checks on incoming and outgoing documents to prevent common cyberattack scenario's.

Open standards are also essential for the preservation and access to information. The costs associated with this are made clear by the research done in Sweden by Björn Lundell, a researcher at the University of Skövde. Lundell shows the costs of failing to consider the long-term consequences of the document format. In many cases, Lundell's research shows that municipalities and other administrations simply lose access to their electronic archives. That would not happen with an open standard.

Choice is good

As far as ODF is concerned, it already provides much choice to public administrations. The Wikipedia page on OpenDocument lists no less than 33 office software applications supporting or partly supporting ODF.

At the moment the best ODF support is found in open source solutions, such as Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice where ODF is the default, or native document format. Here ODF needs no plugins or converters. These solutions do not scare users with warnings about corrupted documents, urging unsuspecting users to save precious work in a proprietary alternative format.

One of the prime examples in Europe is found in France. MIMO, an inter-ministerial working group, is busy implementing free and open source software solutions on the workstations of 11 of France's 17 ministries. The LibreOffice office suite is now installed on nearly all 500,000 desktops of France's ministries: Energy (Ecology), Defence (Défense), Interior (Intérieur), Economy, Justice, Agriculture, Culture and Communication, Education, Finance, and the two newly joined ministries, Health and Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs. That is a lot of proprietary licences not needed, and not paid for.

Toulouse, France's fourth largest city, has saved EUR 1 million by migrating all its desktops to LibreOffice.

<quote>"Software licenses for productivity suites cost Toulouse EUR 1.8 million every three years”</quote>, a study published by the European Commission's Open Soure Observatory and Repository (OSOR) quotes current and former city officials as saying.

<quote>“Migration cost us about 800,000 euro, due partly to some development. One million euro has actually been saved in the first three years. It is a compelling proof in the actual context of local public finance", the study quotes Erwane Monthubert, who was responsible for the city's IT policy until April 2014, as saying.</quote>

France harbours also Europe's, and possibly world-wide the largest example of a public administration using open source on workstations. The country's Gendarmerie has Ubuntu Linux and LibreOffice running on 72,000 workstations (including the outposts in French Polynesia). Using an open source desktop lowers the total cost of ownership by 40%, in savings on proprietary software licences and by reducing costs on IT management. Using Ubuntu Linux massively reduces the number of local technical interventions, says Major (Commandant) Stéphane Dumond. "The direct benefits of saving on licences are the tip of the iceberg. An industrialised open source desktop is a powerful lever for IT governance."

According to Dumond, this approach lowers the total costs of workstations by 40 percent, a combination of lower licence costs, much easier and central IT management and a huge decrease in the number of local technical interventions. "The decrease in licence costs are only the tip of the iceberg", Dumond told South Korean government executives in 2014.

Free as in freedom

Enough about France. Examples on such savings are steadily aggregated by the EC's OSOR , from Las Palmas to Limerick, from Gummersbach to Grygov, from Århus to Arles, and from Vieira do Minho to Voreppe.

The Italian city of Trieste expects to save some EUR 900,000 in proprietary office software licences between 2014 and 2017. The city is moving to the Apache OpenOffice suite. The same in the administration of the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, which is counting on savings worth some EURO 2 million. Free software such as LibreOffice and OpenOffice is popular in Italy. It can be found in many regions, including Umbria, Bolzano, Friuli–Venezia Giulia and Tuscany.

Similarly, in Spain several regions are switching or have switched to free software office suites. Examples include the administration of the Spanish autonomous region of Valencia. In 2013 it moved 120,000 desktop PCs of the administration, including schools and courts to LibreOffice. The migration will save the government some EUR 1.5 million per year on proprietary software licences.

"Apart from economic benefits, the commitment to free and open source software brings other advantages, including having the solutions available in the Valencian language as well as in Spanish, and IT vendor independence, which encourages competition", the ICT department's Director General, Sofia Bellés, said in a statement at the time. "We also have the freedom to modify and adapt the software to our every need."

In Galicia, roughly one thousand workstations used by the region's public authorities had LibreOffice implemented in 2014. The government also said it would start raising awareness among the region's public administrations about the advantages of sharing, and promoting the reuse of ICT solutions.

World-famous is the German city of Munich, having switched all of its 14,200 desktops to Linux and LibreOffice.

And last, but not least, a concrete example from the Netherlands. Public administrations that switch to free and open source software can expect a large reduction of their ICT costs, an OSOR study shows. The annual ICT costs for the Dutch municipality of Ede are now 24% lower than its peers. "Most of this reduction can be explained by Ede's extremely low spend on software licenses: only 56 euros per full-time equivalent employee instead of 731 euros. Such a large reduction was achieved by moving from proprietary to open source software." The municipality is running dozens of open source solutions, including LibreOffice.

By recognizing the benefits of the ODF open standard, the switch to office tools that support it well becomes a critical factor. It does matter, because it is ultimately the citizens and companies that pay for inaction.