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The Consortium for Open Source in Public Administration (Cospa) launches today with the goal of increasing and improving the use of open source software across Europe.

Partly-funded by the European Commission, the group will provide advice and expertise to government bodies which want to use non-proprietary software. The launch is being marked by a day of events in Cork, Ireland. Attendees will hear speeches from Pat Cox, president of the European Parliament, Doug Heintzman, director of technical strategy at IBM, and Bob Griffith, international secretary at the Society of IT Management.

The Cospa project runs from January 2004 until December 2005. It is expected to cost €4m and has received a contribution from the EU of €2.6m. It consists of 15 partners including IBM, Bolzano University, Limerick University, Sheffield University, SocITM, the provinces of Genoa and Pisa in Italy and the south west regional authority in Ireland. There are also observers from Alberta University, Canada, UNESCO and Sedgemoor District Council in England.

The group believes that the cost to public bodies of buying commerical off-the-shelf software could be greatly reduced by moving to open source which would also benefit "local business ecosystems". It says there are various local initiatives across Europe but no central body collating information, analysing cost benefits and sharing knowledge.

To do this, Cospa will deploy open source or open data source desktop software solutions in several European public administrations and carry out cost/benefit analysis on them. It will build a European, multilingual knowledge base and it will run a series of workshops to communicate lessons it has learnt.

It will also attempt to address perceived barriers to adoption of open source software, specifically; cost of data migration, interoperability and integration problems with existing infrastructure, personnel training, concerns about support, maintenance and future proofing.

Apart from potential savings, Cospa believes using open source software offers governement bodies better versatility, adaptability and transparency. Other advantages are that citizens would not have to buy proprietary software to access government services, "trust and confidence" in public administrations would increase and business would have better access to government services by "eliminating possible digital impediments".

More details here.®

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