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Deputy News Editor

Senegal goes open source to cut software costs

Jan 31, 20064 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxMySQL

Senegal’s state IT agency is turning to open source software to avoid paying what it sees as prohibitively expensive license fees for commercial software, government representatives said Tuesday.

“We are an underdeveloped country without enough funding for expensive software. Open source systems are suitable because, with open source, these cost constraints are not there,” says Tidiane Seck, director of Senegal’s Agence De l’Informatique de l’Etat (ADIE), or state IT agency, in a telephone interview from Dakar.

The move has been under way for a little over a year and began soon after the formation of ADIE, which is charged with developing an IT infrastructure for Senegal’s government ministries, including a high-speed network and applications for accounting, payroll and other functions.

The agency runs Linux on all of its approximately 100 servers for file, e-mail and directory serving, and uses MySQL AB’s open source database. It is also in the process of rolling out an open source ERP package from software start-up Nexedi. Senegal, in West Africa, is a former French colony and French is its official language.

The government still uses Microsoft’s Windows XP software on about 8,000 desktop and laptop PCs, but has been experimenting with OpenOffice and hopes eventually to move those machines to open source software as well, Seck said. “Many users know the Microsoft desktop system and it’s difficult to change that,” he said.

Senegal is one of an unknown number of governments around the world which, under pressure to cut costs while also providing online services for citizens, are turning to open-source software as a way to reduce software licensing costs.

“We have no ideology about Microsoft and Linux,” Seck said. “Using open source is very convenient because it’s suitable for providing us with good solutions with less money.”

ADIE buys PCs from local distributors for about $1,500, including Windows XP and Microsoft Office, he says. Switching to open source could cut the price of new machines to $1,000, he estimates.

Even some big businesses in Senegal do not have the budget to buy ERP software from vendors such as SAP AG and Oracle, Seck says.

The IT agency formed an unusual partnership with Nexedi, of Marcq-en-Baroeul, France, to use that company’s ERP5 software. Nexedi offered French government agencies a month’s free training on its software if, in return, the trainee contributed to the software’s development, says Jean-Paul Smets-Solanes, Nexedi’s CEO.

No French agencies responded, but word of the offer reached Senegal where Mayoro Diagne, a development engineer with ADIE, took the training course and developed a new budgeting module. Diagne talked about his work with Nexedi at the Solutions Linux conference in Paris Tuesday.

“We trained that guy for one month in Dakar, in an apartment every night in very tough conditions. We like to make sure they are ready to invest time,” Smets-Solanes says.

The Senegalese IT agency has now installed Nexedi’s payroll, accounting and budgeting modules internally where they are used by about a dozen people, Seck says. “What we are doing now is using ourselves as a kind of pilot, and we intend to push other government agencies to use these systems.”

The ERP software runs on servers and is accessed by employees remotely from a Web browser, he said.

Swapping software training for developer time is a win for both Nexedi and the user, according to Smets-Solanes. Diagne, the agency’s engineer, developed a module that fit well with Senegal’s needs, and Nexedi now gets to make the module a part of its suite and offer it to other customers.

Microsoft had originally sought the ERP contract with the Senegalese agency, according to Diagne.

Smets-Solanes says the agency was using a Microsoft Excel application that it had modified internally for its payroll operations.

“Microsoft wanted to sell us the software for ERP but we refused their proposal,” Diagne says. “We preferred Nexedi’s software.”

Microsoft is having more success providing software for Senegalese schools, thanks partly to the hefty discounts it offers. Senegal signed an agreement with Microsoft under which its primary and secondary schools pay $5 for a copy of Windows XP and $7 for Microsoft Office, according to Seck.

Microsoft said it remains committed to working with the Senegalese government. It recently appointed a country manager there, Paul Niamkey, and plans to open its regional head office for West and Central Africa in Dakar, it said. It has been supporting teachers and students in the region since 2004.”We recognize that governments are concerned about the economic and educational opportunities for their citizens, and other factors beyond just customer value, and Microsoft’s engagement with governments, such as with the Senegalese government, is one of long-term commitment and support,” it said.