Open Source Is So Much More Than Free Code

Roger Baker | FCW | December 6, 2016

In 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs officially moved its most critical software, the VistA electronic health record system, into open source by establishing the Open Source Electronic Health Record Alliance (OSEHRA). Along the way, VA officials solicited and followed advice from numerous open source experts, including Red Hat, Carnegie Mellon University and the Industry Advisory Council.

OSEHRA now has five years of experience dealing with the unique challenges of federal laws and open source approaches, which means it can serve as a powerful resource for other federal agencies looking to establish successful open source policies and implementation. OSEHRA's expertise is especially timely because Executive Memorandum M-16-21 has established a new federal policy to encourage agencies' embrace of open source.

The key lesson from OSEHRA is that open source software is much more complex than "make it free." Successful open source is about the growth and evolution of a software asset, and it requires establishment of a comprehensive and integrated ecosystem around that asset. Successful open source efforts must emphasize software management, community collaboration and transparent governance...