Abandoning “Skim & Abandon”

Robert Adkins,  August 17th, 2005 at 11:15 am

The truth is, in developing economies, there is little support for any kind of software, whether it’s open source or proprietary. Even where labor is cheap, the tracks are blocked for the development of a strong software industry. Let’s see why.

“You can see the lack of automation in the banks whose branches still run on paper chits, in the judicial system that holds records on scraps of paper piled on the floors of courtrooms…”

The cost of most commercial software in developing countries is typically undiscounted. Inequities in price parity make commercial software unaffordable for most applications. High cost simply stunts the growth of an ICT infrastructure. You can see this everywhere — in the banks whose branches still run on paper chits, in the judicial system that holds records on scraps of paper piled on the floors of courtrooms, in shops where cash transactions are done without receipts. The examples are endless. While the software required to automate these processes exists in the form of open source solutions as well as proprietary products, the business processes themselves do not exist.

So how can automation be spawned?

Many leaders in developing countries believe that allowing competitive market dynamics to take their course is the best way to ensure the emergence of ICT and the spread of its benefits. Often that means proprietary vendors are encouraged to engage in various private-public partnerships because they are perceived to be a source of technology expertise as well as to have the financial strength to ensure follow-through and accountability in major projects.

Unfortunately in developing economies, the leading problem with proprietary solutions is that they seek to produce wealth where there is none. They skim off the top of what is possible and leave the vast majority of practical requirements unresourced. The budget assigned for a typical ICT project is exhausted upfront for paying license fees and other initial fixed costs. Insufficient funds are left for implementation and deployment. After successfully capturing initial resources, the project is left to fend for itself and usually fails. Meanwhile this pattern is practiced over and over again.

A Better Solution

A better solution is to use zero-cost software and invest the savings into building the basic business processes and automation that fit into the local economic reality. This can only be done with open source software.

When the pattern of ’skim-and-abandon’ is broken, only then will automating business processes and government services succeed. Then an ICT support industry can begin to evolve. Support will emerge because it is needed by every operational program. The first projects will kick-start the local service and support industries and then the reinforcing effects of success will take over.

“OSS is the only real choice for developing economies.”

Establishing practical support in developing countries for open source software requires nothing less than building support simultaneously for basic automation. New business and government processes, friendly to ICT, can only be nurtured by lowering the barriers to entry. Automation has to be made as easy and as cheap as possible. Otherwise the inertia of transforming largely manual processes will be insurmountable. Automation cannot get rolling if it faces initial obstacles posed by high costs or by proprietary solutions.

After witnessing so many ICT projects start and then stall, each launched with great promises yet ending up nowhere, the leaders of developing countries must realize that inflated costs and proprietary solutions pose a death embrace for the start up of any automation in their countries.

This is the real reason that open source software is the only choice for developing economies.

© Robert Adkins, Technetra. Published August 2005 in LinuxForYou magazine. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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