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New model for software contracts catching on in NYC

4/30/2012

The open data and open source movements are changing the way New York City approaches IT contracts, according to New York Public Media.

Customarily, the city secures the services of a private company for its tech needs, as when Sense Networks was contracted to provide GPS systems to the city's huge fleet of taxis, NYPM stated. One potential downside to this model is that the data involved - in this case, the location of cabs - becomes the property of the contracted company, and any other developer who wants to use that data will probably have to pay a fee for it.

In an open source model, a developer usually creates a piece of software and then approaches the relevant city agency to discuss contracting, according to Mark Gorton, founder of the non-profit open source company OpenPlans, which created software that lets people track the location of city buses.

"What we typically do with a software contract is we fund the initial work internally by ourselves," Gorton told NYPM. "We get the software project to a certain state where we can go to different government agencies where we can say, 'look, we have this,' and they say, 'do you want a contract to push the development forward and have us work on our project?'"

The benefit of this open source model is that it saves the city in initial costs to build software, the news source reported. It also keeps the data and the software code available to other developers, which spurs further innovation.

Despite these benefits, open source contracts are not likely to eclipse standard contracts in the near-term, said Nicholas Sbordone, a city official with an agency that does a lot of IT contracting. Speaking with NYPM, Sbordone said "there's not always going to be an open source solution out there the day you need it," and he said that when public need is urgent, a private company will likely still be the best option.

As open source takes off in the Big Apple, it might find that some of its most active developers are among the city's youngest residents. In September 2012, the city will open a high school specializing in software development training, according to Government Computer News.