The Trend Toward 'Open' IT in the Public Sector: Motives, Choices, and Outcomes

30 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2011 Last revised: 11 Mar 2016

See all articles by Joachim Henkel

Joachim Henkel

TUM School of Management - Technische Universität München (TUM)

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: February 2, 2011

Abstract

Over the past decade, governments at all levels have begun to explore “open” information technologies: open-source software, open standards requirements, and open data initiatives. However, the strategic decisions associated with “open” are not as straightforward for the public sector as they are for the private sector, which can effectively evaluate available solutions based on their associated costs and benefits. By contrast, government IT decisions involve additional motivations and tradeoffs, and must take into account less easily quantified benefits such as transparency and improvements to public welfare.

In this paper, we examine the motivations and outcomes of governments’ moves toward “open,” comparing initiatives launched in Brazil, France, Germany, Massachusetts, and Vancouver. We interviewed stakeholders and decision makers involved with these case studies, and we analyzed their very different approaches to making IT decisions. Our research shows that the conversation has moved beyond “open versus closed” software – and that, in fact, the term “open” in the context of IT decision-making is fraught with ambiguity and multiple interpretations. Based on these findings, we developed a framework for bringing transparency to the decision-making process itself by articulating the motives, choices, and tradeoffs associated with IT purchasing decisions. Finally, we conclude that the most effective moves toward “open” government are not related to traditional software-purchasing decisions; instead, openness in government has become more about transparency and availability of information than about which systems enable that transparency.

Keywords: information technology, public sector, open source software, open standards, open data

JEL Classification: H40, L44, L86, O38

Suggested Citation

Henkel, Joachim and Lakhani, Karim R., The Trend Toward 'Open' IT in the Public Sector: Motives, Choices, and Outcomes (February 2, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1758296 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1758296

Joachim Henkel (Contact Author)

TUM School of Management - Technische Universität München (TUM) ( email )

Arcisstr. 21
Munich, D-80333
Germany

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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