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How Spanish administrations reuse software - an interview with Elena Muñoz Salinero about best practices.

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The Technology Transfer Centre (CTT) is an initiative run by the Spanish government whose goal is to facilitate sharing and reuse of software and services among public administrations. To shed light on this best practice, we have conducted an interview with Elena Muñoz Salinero, head of CTT, to ask her about the legal, political and technological background of the CTT.

In a first interview of a series related to our Public Money? Public Code! campaign, we have asked Elena Muñoz Salinero, Head of Telematics Systems Area within the General Secretary of Digital Administration in the Ministry of Finance and Public Function of Spain. In this role, she leads the Technology Transfer Centre of the Spanish Government, whose objective is to favor the re-use of software solutions between public administrations by publishing code under Free Software licenses. Read about the juridical and technical background of the CTT as well as obligations on the Spanish administration to use and reuse Free Software, about license questions and how other administrations and users even outside of Spain can benefit.

Picture of Elena Muñoz Salinero

Elena Muñoz graduated in Telecommunications Engineering at Polytechnics University of Madrid and joined the General State Administration in 2003. Now she is Head of Telematics Systems Area within the General Secretary of Digital Administration in the Ministry of Finance and Public Function of Spain. Since 2007, among other activities, she has worked in the field of reuse of applications and services provided by public administrations and she leads the initiative of the Technology Transfer Centre of the Spanish Government.

FSFE: You are leading the Technology Transfer Centre (CTT) of the Spanish Government, whose goal is to favor the re-use of software solutions between public administrations. Can you explain in short the legal and political background of the CTT and what you are doing exactly to achieve this goal?

As you have said, the Technology Transfer Centre (“CTT”) publishes a repository of software solutions provided by Spanish public administrations (local, regional and national levels). It also allows the collaborative development of information technology programs for e-government in the CTT-Forge, right now integrated in GitHub.

The CTT origin dates back to 2007, as the answer to the legal mandate established by Article 46 of the 11/2007 Law for Citizens Electronic Access to Public Services. At that time it was already seen that having electronic public services at all administrations levels was only possible, in an efficient way, if public administrations could share their progress. The reuse requirements were extended in our National Interoperability Framework.

And finally, in 2016, entered into force new requirements updated (and increased) in articles 157 and 158 of the new law 40/2015 of legal regime of public sector, the basic law for all the Spanish public sector which defines how public administrations should work. As you can see, the sharing and reuse of ICTs concept in Spain is a fundamental basis.

FSFE: Is CTT only offering Free Software solutions, meaning code that is published under a Free Software or Open Source license? If so, do you know what is the most favorited software license used by Spanish administrations?

From the beginning, we thought that “sharing and reuse” is a broader concept than “free software”. For us, this concept has always also been linked to the reuse of services, the nowadays called “cloud services”.

In the CTT, you can find many different kinds of reusable solutions: applications, common services, semantic assets, etc. Even the applications can be totally open source, only “open source” for public administrations or only for use in the public sector. It is a decision of the provider.

Our general recommendation and preferred licence is the EUPL (European Union Public Licence). Although of course we accept any other open source licence.

FSFE: Within the Technology Transfer Centre are you hosting the code of software yourself or do you mainly run kind of a database of available solutions and than you route visitors to the other project's code hosting platform?

In this case the answer is “both”. We are a “kind of database” of available solutions but you can choose between hosting the code in the CTT, hosting it in the CTT-forge (in GitHub) or hosting it in any other platform. We are very flexible.

"The main concept is that Public Administrations should share their own developed applications if another Public Administration asks for them."

FSFE: Is it obligatory for a public administration to consider CTT and to favor a reusable Free Software solution over other solutions, including even cheaper options of proprietary software? In practice, how is the obligation implemented?

The main concept is that Public Administrations should share their own developed applications if another Public Administration asks for them. Of course, they must have the intellectual rights to doing so.

The new law also says that, before developing something new, Public Administrations should check if there is an application or service similar in the CTT. And in that case they must reuse it.

However, if you can justify that there is a cheaper option for your organization using any other solution (open source or proprietary) you can go ahead with it.

FSFE: Do you also help other administrations pro-actively or in case they ask you to find a solution for them, that fits? Or do they have to find a solution on their own? Do you offer any kind of service help?

Each solution is responsible for offering its own support but it is not compulsory. They are contributing it for free so it is up to them whether to provide support or not. Our ministry is indeed one of the biggest providers of reusable solutions for other public administrations. We provide many open source applications and many cloud services to all public administrations, we try to cover the major needs for the provision of e-government services. In these cases, we provide support for anyone trying to use them.

FSFE: What about Software that is still developed by administrations inside Spain or that has been developed but maybe is not yet Free Software? Are you helping these administrations to free their software and put it into your repository? Do you offer legal or community support?

We help public administrations trying to free their software in different ways. For them, we have developed a very interesting guide Asset Reuse - Guide to Asset Publication and Licensing. The CTT also offers a support service where you can ask questions about the process, how to choose the license, etc. And of course, we are intensive users of the support of the European Commission regarding EUPL available in JOINUP.

FSFE: In last year's Share and re-use conference, Spain was awarded best with four awards in three categories for four different Free Software solutions. Do you think that Free Software is an important or growing topic inside the administrative culture of Spain?

These awards are just the proof and the recognition of all the efforts that have been carried out for many years in Spain. Free software is not just a growing topic in Spanish administrative culture but a consolidated fact.

FSFE: How is the general acceptance and feedback towards CTT across the administrations throughout Spain?

The feedback is very positive in all senses. We have many providers and many reusers.

"There is still needed a major cultural change, bear in mind, from scratch, that the software developed should be reusable in the future"

However the general complaint is the diversity of open source licenses. If we had only an extremely reduced set, the analysis for freeing the software will be much simpler and many more providers will be eager to freeing their solutions having all the guarantees.

The other drawback is that software reuse is not easy. The bigger the product the more difficult it is to reuse it. All products produced in public administrations (and in any other big company) are much customized for the specific characteristics and behavior of that organization. In general, they have not been developed bearing in mind that any other could reuse it, therefore, there is always needed some efforts (sometimes quite a big one) to adapt it to the new environment.

There is still needed a major cultural change, bear in mind, from scratch, that the software developed should be reusable in the future.

FSFE: Would it be possible for an administration outside Spain to find help in your service or to add software solutions to it?

Any public administration, from inside or outside Spain, can be a user and a contributor to any of our open source solutions. However, we only provide support and add solutions from Spanish public administrations.

FSFE: Is there any way for our readers who do not work in a Spanish administration to help and contribute to the repository of CTT or the software solutions offered?

Yes, of course. Many of the solutions are already in GitHub where you can help and contribute as you do to any other one. Additionally, some of the open source solutions are working as an established open source community where anyone can contribute.

Interviewer: Erik Albers

With our Public Money? Public Code! campaign, the FSFE demands that publicly financed software developed for the public sector shall be made publicly available under a Free and Open Source Software licence. In order to help understand our call and its benefits, we run a series of interviews that highlight good examples and use-cases as best practices. Our interview partners will be policy makers and decision takers, authorities and developers, that in one way or another are already implementing public code.