ATO2014: Lessons from Open Source Schoolhouse

Charlie Reisinger from the Penn Manor School District talked to us next about open source at his school. This was an expanded version of his lightning talk from the other night.

Penn Manor has 9 IT team members – which is a very lean staff for 4500 devices. They also do a lot of their technology in house.

Before we talk about open source we took a tangent in to the nature of education today. School districts are so stuck on the model they’re using and have used for centuries. But today kids can learn anything they would like with a simple connection to the Internet. You can be connected to the most brilliant minds that you’d like. Teachers are no longer the fountains of all knowledge. The classroom hasn’t been transformed by technology – if you walked in to a classroom 60 years ago it would look pretty much like a classroom today.

In schools that do allow students to have laptops they lock them down. This is a terrible model for student inquiry. The reason most of us are here today is because we had a system growing up that we could get in to and try to break/fix/hack.

CharlieSo what is Penn Manor doing differently? First off they’re doing everything with open source. They use Koha, Moodle, Linux, WordPress, Ubuntu, OwnCloud, SIPfoundry and VirtualBox.

This came to them partially out of fiscal necessity. When Apple discontinued the white macbook the school was stuck in a situation where they needed to replace these laptops with some sort of affordable device. Using data they collected from the students laptops they found that students spent most of their time on their laptops in the browser or in a word processor so they decided to install Linux on laptops. Ubuntu was the choice because the state level testing would work on that operating systems.

This worked in elementary, but they needed to scale it up to the high schools which was much harder because each course needed different/specific software. They needed to decide if they could provide a laptop for every student.

The real guiding force in decided to provide one laptop per student was the English department. They said that they needed the best writing device that could be given to them. This knocked out the possibility of giving tablets to all students – instead a laptop allows for this need. Not only did they give all students laptops with Linux installed – they gave them all root access. This required trust! They created policies and told the students they trusted them to use the laptops as responsible learners. How’s that working out? Charlie has had 0 discipline issues associated with that. Now, if they get in to a jam where they screwed up the computer – maybe this isn’t such a bad thing because now they have to learn to fix their mistake.

Open SoftwareThey started this as a pilot program for 90 of their online students before deploying to all 1700 students. These computers include not just productivity software, but Steam! That got the kids attention. When they deployed to everyone though, Steam came off the computers, but the kids knew it was possible so it forced them to figure out how to install it on Linux which is not always self explanatory. This prodded the kids in to learning.

Charlie mentioned that he probably couldn’t have done this 5 years ago because the apps that are available today are so dense and so rich.

There was also the issue of training the staff on the change in software, but also in having all the kids with laptops. This included some training of the parents as well.

Along with the program they created a help desk program as a 4 credit honors level course as independent study for the high school students. They spent the whole time supporting the one to one program (one laptop per student). These students helped with the unpacking, inventorying, and the imaging (github.com/pennmanor/FLDT built by one of the students) of the laptops over 2 days. The key to the program is that the students were treated as equals. This program was was picked up and talked about on Linux.com.

Charlie’s favorite moment of the whole program was watching his students train their peers on how to use these laptops.

ATO2014: Open sourcing the public library

Phil Shapiro one of my fellow opensource.com moderators talked to us next about open source and libraries.

Too many people ask what is the future of libraries and not what “should the future be”. A book that we must read is “Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries For Today‚Äôs Complex World“. If we don’t expect more of libraries we’re not going to see libraries change. We have to change the frame of mind that libraries belong the directors – they actually belong to the people and they should be serving the people.

Phil asks how we get some community participate in managing libraries. Start looking at your library’s collection and see if there is at least 1% of the collection in the STEM arena. Should that percent be more? 5%, 10%, more? There is no real answer here, but maybe we need to make a suggestion to our libraries. Maybe instead our funds should go to empower the community more in the technology arena. Maybe we should have co-working space in our library – this can be fee based even – could be something like $30/mo. That would be a way for libraries to help the unemployed and the community as a whole.

Libraries are about so much more than books. People head to the library because they’re wondering about something – so having people who have practical skills on your staff is invaluable. Instead of pointing people to the books on the topic, having someone for them to talk to is a value added service. What are our competitors going to be doing while we’re waiting for the transition from analog to digital to happen in libraries. We need to set some milestones for all libraries. Right now it’s only the wealthy libraries that seem to be moving in this way.

A lot of the suggestions Phil had I’ve seen some of the bigger libraries in the US doing like hosting TED Talks, offering digital issues lectures, etc. You could also invite kids in there to talk about what they know/have learned.

Phil’s quote: “The library fulfills its promise when people of different ages, races, and cultures come together to pool their talents in creating new creative content.” One thing to think about is whether this change from analog to digital can happen in libraries without changing their names. Instead we could call them the digital commons [I'm not sure this is necessary - I see Phil's point - but I think we need to just rebrand libraries and market them properly and keep their name.]

Some awesome libraries include Chattanooga Public Library which has their 4th floor makerspace. In Colorado there are the Anythink Libraries. The Delaware Department of Libraries is creating a new makerspace.

Books are just one of the tools toward helping libraries enhance human dignity – there are so many other ways we can do this.

Phil showed us a video of his:



You can bend the universe by asking questions – so call your library and ask questions about open source or about new technologies so that we plant the seeds of change.

Further reading from Phil: http://sites.google.com/site/librarywritings.

ATO2014: How ‘Open’ Changes Products

Next up at All Things Open was Karen Borchert talking about How ‘Open’ Changes Products.

We started by talking about the open product conundrum. There is a thing that happens when we think about creating products in an open world. In order to understand this we must first understand what a product is. A product is a good, idea, method, information or service that we want to distribute. In open source we think differently about this. We think more about tools and toolkits instead of packages products because these things are more conducive to contribution and extension. With ‘open’ products work a bit more like Ikea – you have all the right pieces and instructions but you have to make something out of it – a table or chair or whatever. Ikea products are toolkits to make things. When we’re talking about software most buyers are thinking what they get out of the box so a toolkit is not a product to our consumers.

A table is not a bikeOpen Atrium is a product that Phase2 produces and people say a lot about it like “It’s an intranet in a box” – but in reality it’s a toolkit. People use it a lot of different ways – some do what you’d expect them to do, others make it completely different. This is the great thing about open source – this causes a problem for us though in open source – because in Karen’s example a table != a bike. “The very thing that makes open source awesome is what makes our product hard to define.”

Defining a product in the open arena is simple – “Making an open source product is about doing what’s needed to start solving a customer problem on day 1.” Why are we even going down this road? Why are we creating products? Making something that is useable out of the box is what people are demanding. They also provide a different opportunity for revenue and profit.

This comes down to three things:

  • Understanding the value
  • Understanding the market
  • Understanding your business model

Adding value to open source is having something that someone who knows better than me put together. If you have an apple you have all you need to grow your own apples, but you’re not going to both to do that. You’d rather (or most people would rather) leave that to the expert – the farmer. Just because anyone can take the toolkit and build whatever they want with it that they will.

Two marketsMarkets are hard for us in open source because we have two markets – one that gives the product credibility and one that makes money – and often these aren’t the same market. Most of the time the community isn’t paying you for the product – they are usually other developers or people using it to sell to their clients. You need this market because you do benefit from it even if it’s not financially. You also need to work about the people who will pay you for the product and services. You have to invest in both markets to help your product succeed.

Business modelBusiness models include the ability to have two licenses – two versions of the product. There is a model around paid plugins or themes to enhance a product. And sometimes you see services built around the product. These are not all of the business models, but they are a few of the options. People buy many things in open products: themes, hosting, training, content, etc.

What about services? Services can be really important in any business model. You don’t have to deliver a completely custom set of services every time you deliver. It’s not less of a product because it’s centered around services.

Questions people ask?

Is it going to be expensive to deal with an open source product? Not necessarily but it’s not going to be free. We need to plan and budget properly and invest properly.

Am I going to make money on my product this year?
Maybe – but you shouldn’t count on it. Don’t bet the farm on your product business until you’ve tested the market.

Everyone charges $10/mo for this so I’m just going to charge that – is that cool? Nope! You need to charge what the product is worth and what people will pay for it and what you can afford to sell it for. Think about your ROI.

I’m not sure we want to be a products company. It’s very hard to be a product company without buy in. A lot of service companies ask this. Consider instead a pilot program and set a budget to test out this new model. Write a business plan.

ATO2014: Women in Open Source Panel

Over lunch today we had a panel of 6 women in open source talk to us.

The first question was about their earlier days – what made them interested in open source or computer science or all of it.

Intros

Megan started in humanities and then just stumbled in to computer programming. Once she got in to it she really enjoyed it though. Elizabeth got involved with Linux through a boyfriend early on. She really fell in love with Linux because she was able to do anything she wanted with it. She joined the local Linux users group and they were really supportive and never really made a big deal about the fact that she was a woman. Her first task in the open source world was writing documentation (which was really hard) but from there her career grew. Erica has been involved in technology all her life (which she blames her brother for). When she went to school, she wanted to be creative and study arts, but her father gave her the real life speech and she realized that computer programming let her be creative and practical at the same time. Estelle started by studying architecture which was more sexist than her computer science program – toward the end of her college career she found that she was teaching people to use their computers. Karen was always the geekiest person she knew growing up – and her father really encouraged her. She went to engineering school and it wasn’t until she set up her Unix account at the college computer center. She got passionate in open source because of the pacemaker she needs to live – she realized that the entire system is completely proprietary and started thinking about the implications of that.

The career path

Estelle has noticed in the open source world that the men she knows on her level work for big corporations where as the women are working for themselves. This was because there aren’t as many options to move up the ladder. Now as for why she picked the career she picked it was because her parents were sexist and she wanted to piss them off! Elizabeth noticed that a lot of women get involved in open source because they’re recruited in to a volunteer organization. She also notices that more women are being paid to work on open source whereas men are doing it for fun more. Megan had never been interviewed by or worked for a woman until she joined academia. Erica noticed that the career path of women she has met is more convoluted than that of the men she has met. The men take computer science classes and then go in to the field, women however didn’t always know that these opportunities were available to them originally. Karen sees that women who are junior have to work a lot harder – they have to justify their work more often [this is something I totally had to deal with in the past]. Women in these fields get so tired because it’s so much work – so they move on to do something else. Erica says this is partially why she has gone to work for herself because she gets to push forward her own ideas. Megan says that there are a lot of factors that are involved in this problem – it’s not just one thing.

Is diversity important in technology?

Erica feels that if you’re building software for people you need ‘people’ not just one type of person working on the project. Megan says that a variety perspectives is necessary. Estelle says that because women often follow a different path to technology it adds even more diversity than just gender [I for example got in to the field because of my literature degree and the fact that I could write content for the website]. It’s also important to note that diversity isn’t just about gender – but so much more. Karen pointed out that even at 20 months old we’re teaching girls and boys differently – we start teaching boys math and problem solving earlier and we help the girls for longer. This reinforces the gender roles we see today. Elizabeth feels that diversity is needed to engage more talent in general.

What can we do to change the tide?

Megan likes to provide a variety in the types of problems she provides in her classes, with a variety of approaches so that it hits a variety of students instead of alienating those who don’t learn the way she’s teaching. Karen wants us to help women from being overlooked. When a woman make a suggestion acknowledge it – also stop people from interrupting women (because we are interrupted more). Don’t just repeat what the woman says but amplify it. Estelle brings up an example from SurveyMonkey – they have a mentorship program and also offer you to take off when you need to (very good for parents). Erica tries to get to youth before the preconceptions form that technology is for boys. One of the things she noticed was that language matters as well – telling girls you’re going to teach them to code turns them off, but saying we’re going to create apps gets them excited. Elizabeth echoed the language issue – a lot of the job ads are geared toward men as well. Editing your job ads will actually attract more women.

What have you done in your career that you’re most proud of?

Estelle’s example is not related to technology – it was an organization called POWER that was meant to help students who were very likely to have a child before graduation – graduate without before becoming a parent. It didn’t matter what what field they went in to – just that the finished high school. Erica is proud that she has a background that lets her mentor so many people. Elizabeth wrote a book! It was on her bucket list and now she has a second book in the works. It was something she never thought she could do and she did. She also said that it feels great to be a mentor to other women. Megan is just super proud of her students and watching them grow up and get jobs and be successful. Karen is mostly proud of the fact that she was able to turn something that was so scary (her heart condition) in to a way to articulate that free software is so important. She loves hearing others tell her story to other people to explain why freedom in software is so important.

ATO2014: Open source, marketing and using the press

Steven Vaughan-Nichols was up to talk to us about open source, marketing and using the press.

Before Steven was a journalist he was a techie. This makes him unusual as a journalist who actually gets technology. Steven is here to tell us that marketing is a big part of your job if you want a successful open source company. He has heard a lot of people saying that marketing isn’t necessary anymore. The reason it’s necessary is because writing great code is not enough – if no one else knows about it it doesn’t matter. You need to talk with people about the project to make it a success.

We like to talk about open source being a meritocracy – that’s not 100% true – the meritocracy is the ideal or a convenient fiction. The meritocracy is only part of the story – it’s not just about your programming it’s about getting the right words to the right people so that they know about your project. You need marketing for this reason.

Any successful project needs 2 things – 1 you already know – is that it solves a problem that needs a solution – the other part is that it must be able to convince a significant number of people that your project is the solution to their problem. One problem open source has is that they confuse open source with the community – they are not the same thing. Marketing is getting info about your project to the world. The community is used for defining what the project really is.

Peter Drucker, says “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Knowing the customer better than they know themselves is not an easy job – but it’s necessary to market/sell your product/service. If your project doesn’t fit the needs of your audience then it won’t go anywhere.

David Packard: “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department” – and it really is. There is a tendency to see marketing as a separate thing. Marketing should not be a separate thing – it should be honest about what you do and it should be the process of getting that message to the world. Each person who works on the project (or for the company) is a representative of your product – we are always presenting out product to the world (you might not like it – but it’s true). If your name is attached to a project/company then people are going to be watching you. You need to avoid zinging competing products and portray a positive image about you and your product. Even if you’re not thinking about what you’re saying as marketing it is.

Branding is another thing that open source projects don’t always think this through enough – they think this is trivial. Branding actually does matter! What images and words and name you use to describe your product matter. These will become the shorthand that people see your project as. For example if you see the Apply logo you know what it’s about. In our world of open source there is the Red Hat shadow man – whenever you see that image you know that means Red Hat and all the associations you have with that. You can use that association in your marketing. People might not know what Firefox is (yes there are people who don’t know) but they do recognize the cute little logo.

You can no longer talk just on IRC or online, you have to get out there. You need to go to conferences and make speeches and get the word out to people. And always remember to invite people to participate because this is open source. You have to make an active network and get away from the keyboard and talk to people to get the word out there. At this point you need to start thinking about talking to people from the press.

One thing to say to people, to the press, is a statement that will catch on – a catch phrase that will reach the audience you want to reach. The press are the people to talk to the world at large. These are people who are talking to the broader world – talking to people at opensource.com and other tech sites is great – but if you want to make the next leap you need to get to these type of people. Don’t assume that the press you’re talking to don’t know what you’re talking about – but just because they happen to like open source or what you’re talking about – it does not mean that they will write only positive things. The press are critics – they’re not really on your side – even if they like you they won’t just talk your products up. You need to understand that going in.

Having said all that – you do need to talk to the press at some point. And when you do, you need to be aware of a few things. Never ever call the press – they are always on perpetual deadline – you can’t go wrong with email though. When you do send an email be sure to remember to cover a few important things: tell then what you’re doing, tell them what’s new (they don’t care that you have a new employee – they might care if a bigwig quits or is fired), get your message straight (if you don’t know what you’re doing then the press can’t figure it out), and hit it fast (tell them in the first line what you’re doing, who your audience is and why the world should care). Be sure to give the name of someone they can call and email for more info – this can’t be emphasized enough – so often Steven has gotten press releases without contact info on them. Put the info on your website – make sure that there is always a contact in your company for the press. Remember if your project is pretty to send screenshots – this will save the press a lot of time in installing and getting the right images. Steven says “You need to spoon feed us”.

You also want to be sure to know what the press person you’re contacting writes about – do your homework – don’t contact them with your press release if it’s not something they write about. Also be sure to speak in a language that the person you’re talking to will understand [I know I always shy away from OPAC and ILS when talking to the press]. Not everyone you’re talking to has experience in technology. Don’t talk down to the press, just be sure to talk to the person in words they understand. Very carefully craft your message – be sure to give people context and tell them why they should care – if you can’t tell them that there they can’t tell anyone else your story.

Final points – remember to be sweet and charming when talking to the press. When they say something that bothers you, don’t insult the press. If you alienate the press they will remember. In the end the press has more ink/pixels than you do – their words will have a longer reach than you do. If the press completely misrepresents you be sure to send a polite note to the person explaining what was wrong – without using the word ‘wrong’. Be firm, but be polite.

ATO2014: Women in Open Source

20141023_095243

DeLisa Alexander from Red Hat was up next to talk to us about women in open source.

How many of you knew that the first computer – the ENIAC was programmed by women mathematicians? DeLisa is here to share with us a passion for open source and transparency – and something similarly important – diversity.

Why does diversity matter? Throughout history we have been able to innovate our way out of all kinds of problems. In the future we’re going to have to do this faster than ever before. Diversity of thoughts, theories and views is critical to this process. It’s not just “good” to think about diversity, it’s important to innovation and for solving problems for quickly.

Why are we having so much trouble finding talent? 47% of the workforce is made up of women but only 12% are getting computer and information science degrees – and only 1-5% of open source contributors are women. How much faster could we solve the world’s big problems with the other 1/2 of the population were participating? We need to be part of this process.

When you meet a woman who is successful in technology – there is usually one person who mentored her (man or woman) to feel positive about her path – we could be that voice for a girl or woman that we know. Another thing that we can do is help our kids understand what is going on and what opportunities there are. Kids today don’t think about the fact that the games they’re playing were developed by a human – they just think that computers magically have software on them. They have no clue that someone had to design the hardware and program the software [I actually had someone ask me once what 'software' was - the hardest question I've ever had to answer!].

We can each think about the opportunities in open source. There is the GNOME for women program, Girl Develop It and the Women in Open Source award.

The challenge for us is to decide on one person that we’re going to try and influence to stay in the field, join the field, nominate for an award. If each of us do this one thing, next year this room could be filled with 50% women.

ATO2014: Open Source at Facebook

Faebook and Open Source

James Pearce from Facebook started off day 2 at All Things Open with his talk about open source at Facebook.

James started by playing a piece of music for us that was only ever heard in the Vatican until Mozart as a boy wrote down the music he heard and shared it with the world. This is what open source is like. Getting beautiful content out to the world. Being open trumps secrecy. At Facebook they have 211 open source projects – nearly all on Github with about 21 thousand forks and over 10 million lines of codes. In addition to software Facebook also open sources their hardware. Open source has always been part of the Facebook culture since day 1. The difference is that now that Facebook is so large they are much more capable of committing to share via open source.

Here’s the thing people forget about open source – open source is a chance to open the windows on what you’re doing – “Open source is like a breeze from an open window”. By using open source it means they have to think things through more and it means they’re doing a better job on their coding. Facebook however was not always so dedicated to open source – if you looked at their Github account a few years ago you were see a lot of unsupported projects or undocumented projects. “The problem if you throw something over the wall and don’t care about it it’s worth than not sharing it at all”. About a year ago Facebook decided to get their open source house in order.

The first thing they needed to do was find out what they owned and what was out there – which projects were doing well and which were doing badly. The good news was that they were able to use Github’s API to gather all this information and put it in to a database. They then make all this data available via the company intranet so that everyone can see what the status of things is. Once of the nice side effects of sharing this info and linking an employee to each project is that it gamifies things. The graphs can we used to make the teams play off each other. Using things like Github stars and forks they compete to see who is more popular. Why they’re not optimizing on the number of stars, but it does make things fun and keeps people paying attention to their projects.

Also using the data they were able to clean up their “social debt” – they had some pull requests that were over a year old with no response. This gets them thinking about the community health of these projects. They think about the depth of a project, how they’re going to be used and how they’re going to continue on. Sometimes the things they release are just a read only type thing. Other times they will have forked something and will have a stated goal to upstream it to the original project. Sometimes a project is no longer a Facebook specific project. Sometimes Facebook will deprecate a project – this happens with a project that is ‘done’ or is of no longer of use to anyone. Finally they have in the past rebooted a project when upstreaming was not an option.

After giving talks like this James finds that lots of people approach him to talk about their solutions and find that they’re all coming up with the same solutions and reinventing the wheel. So these groups have come together with the idea of pooling their resources and sharing. This was the way TODO started. This is not a Facebook initiative – they’re just one of 13 members who are keen to contribute and share what they learned. This group is thinking about a lot of challenges like why using open source in the first place, what are the policies for launching a new project, licenses, how to interact with communities, what are the metrics to measure the success of a project, etc etc. What they hope to do is start up conversations around these topics and publish these as blogposts.

ATO2014: Pax Data

Doug Cutting

Doug Cutting from Cloudera gave our closing keynote on day 1.

Hadoop started a revolution. It is an open source platform that really harnesses data.

Doug CuttingIn movies the people who harness the data are always the bad guys – so how do we save ourselves from becoming the bad guy? What good is coming out of good data?

Education! The better data we have the better our education system can be. Education will be much better if we can have a custom experience for each student – these kinds of observations are fed by data. If we’re going to make this happen we’re going to need to study data about these students. The more data you amass the better predictions you can make. On the flip side it’s scary to collect data about kids. inBloom was an effort to collect this data, but they ended up shutting down because of the fear. There is a lot of benefit to be had, and it would be sad if we didn’t enable this type of application.

Heathcare is another area this becomes handy. Medical research benefits greatly from data. The better data we collect the better we can care for people. Once again this is an area that people have fears about shared data.

Climate is the last example. Climate is changing and in order to understand how we can effect it data plays a huge role. Data about our energy consumption is part of this. Some people say that certain data is not useful to collect – but this isn’t a good approach. We want to collect all the data and then evaluate it. You don’t know in advance what value the data you collect will have.

How do we collect this data if we don’t have trust? How do we build that trust? There are some technology solutions like encrypting data and anonymizing data sets – these methods are imperfect though. In fact if you anonymize the data too much it muddies it and makes it less useful. This isn’t just a technical problem – instead we need to build trust.

The first way to build trust is to be transparent. If you’re collecting data you need to let people know you’re collecting it and what you’re going to use it for.

The next key element is establishing best practices around data. These are the technical elements like encryption and anonymization. This also includes language to agree/disagree to ways our data is shared.

Next we need to draw clear lines that people can’t step over – for example we can’t show someone’s home address without their express permission. Which gives us a basis for the last element.

Enforcement and oversight is needed. We need someone who is checking up on these organizations that are collecting data. Regulation can sound scary to people, but we have come to trust it in many markets already.

This is not just a local issue – it needs to be a global effort. As professionals in this industry we need to think about how to build this trust and get to the point where data can be stored and shared.

ATO2014: Saving the world: Open source and open science

Academese

Marcus Hanwell, another fellow opensource.com moderator, was the last session of the day with his talk about saving the world with open source and open science!

In science there was a strong ethic of ‘trust, but verify’ – and if you couldn’t reproduce the efforts of the scientist then the theory was dismissed. The ‘but verify’ part of that has kind of gone away in recent years. In science the primary measure of whether you were successful or not was to publish – citations to your work are key. Then when you do publish your content is locked down in costly journals instead of available in the public domain. So if you pay large amounts of money you can have access to the article – but not the data necessarily. Data is kept locked up more and more to keep the findings with the published person so that they get all the credit.

AcademeseJust like in the talk earlier today on what Academia can learn from open source Marcus showed us an article from the 17th century next to an article today – the method of publishing has not changed. Plus these articles are full of academese which is obtuse.

All of this makes it very important to show what’s in the black box. We need to show what’s going on in these experiments at all levels. This includes sharing your steps to run calculations – the source code used to get this info should be written in open source because now the tools used are basically notebooks with no version control system. We have to stop putting scientists on these pedestals and start to hold them accountable.

A great quote that Marcus shared from an Economist article was: “Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself.” Another was “Publishing research without data is simply advertising, not science.” Scientists need to think more about licenses – they give their rights away to journals because they don’t pay enough attention to the licenses that are out there like the creative commons.

What is open? How do we change these behaviors? Open means that everyone has the same access. Certain basic rights are granted to all – the ability to share, modify and use the information. There is a fear out there that sharing our data means that we could prove that we’re wrong or stupid. We need to change this culture. We need more open data (shared in open formats) and using open source software, more open standards and open access.

We need to push boundaries – most of what is published in publicly funded so it should be open and available to all of us! We do need some software to share this data – that’s where we come in and where open source comes in. In the end the lesson is that we need to get scientists to show all their data and not reward academics solely for their citations because this model is rubbish. We need to find a new way to reward scientists though – a more open model.

ATO2014: Open Source in Healthcare

Data center

Luis Ibanez, my fellow opensource.com moderator, was up next to talk to us about Open Source in Healthcare. Luis’s story was so interesting – I hope I caught all the numbers he shared – but the moral of the story is that hospitals could save insane amounts of money if they switched to an open system.

There are 7 billion people on the planet making $72 trillion a year. In the US we have 320 million people and that’s 5% of the global population, but we make 22% of the economic production on the planet – what do we do with that money? 24% of that money is spent on healthcare ($3.8 trillion) – not just the government, this is the spending of the entire country. This is more than they’re spending in Germany and France. However we’re ranked 38th in healthcare quality in the world. France is #1 however and they spend only 12% of their money on healthcare. This is an example of how spending more money on the problem is not helping.

Is there something that geekdom can do to set this straight? Luis says ‘yes!’

So, why do we go to the doctor? To get information. We want the doctor to tell us if we have a problem they can fix and know how to fix it. Information connects directly to our geekdom.

Data centerToday if you go to a hospital our data will be stored in paper and will go in to a “data center” (a filing cabinet). In 2010 84% of hospitals were keeping paper records versus using software. The healthcare industry is the only industry that needs to be paid to get them to switch to using software to store this information – $20 billion spent between 2010 and 2013 to get us to 60% of hospitals storing information electronically. This is one of the reasons we’re spending so much on healthcare right now.

The problem here (and this is Luis’s rant) is that the hospitals have to pay for this software in the first place. And you’re not allowed to share anything about the system. You can’t take screenshots, you can’t talk about the features, you are completely locked down. This system will run your hospital (a combination of hotel, restaurant, and medical facility) – they have been called the most complex institution of the century. These systems for a 400 bed hospital cost $100 million – and they have to buy these systems with little or no knowledge of how they work because of the security measures around seeing/sharing information about the software. This is against the idea of a free market because of the NDA you have to sign to see the software and use the software.

An example that Luis gave us was Wake Forest hospital which ended up being in the red by $56 million. All because they bought software for $100 million – leading to them having to fire their people, stop making retirement payments and other cuts. [For me this sounds a lot like what libraries are doing - paying salaries for an ILS instead of putting money toward people and services instead and saving money on the ILS]

Another problem in the medical industry is that 41% (less than 1/2) have the capability to send secure messages to patients. This is not a technology problem – this is a cultural problem in the medical world. Other industries have solved this technology problem already.

So, why do we care about all of this? There are 5,723 hospitals in the US, 211 of them are federally run (typically military hospitals), 413 are psychiatric, 2,894 are non profits and the others are private or state run. That totals nearly 1 million beds and $830 billion a year is spent in hospitals. The software that these hospitals are buying costs about $250 billion.

The federal hospitals are running a system that was released in to the public domain called VistA. OSEHRA was founded to protect this software. This software those is written in MUMPS. This is the same language that the $100 million software is written in! Except there is a huge difference in price.

If hospitals switched they’d spend $0. To keep this software running/updated we’d need about 20 thousand developers – but if you divide that by the hospitals that’s 4 developers per hospital. These developers don’t need to be programmers though – they could be doctors, nurses pharmacists – because MUMPS is so easy to learn.