Linux in Government: Stanislaus County Does Linux with a Best Practices Slant

A progress report on how one California county government systematically is turning to Linux and open source.

If you call the Stanislaus County administrative offices and ask for Richard Robinson, be sure to specify that you want to speak with the director of strategic business technology. If not, you most likely will get the county's CEO, who has the same name. When you reach the technology director, you will meet a former Accenture (Anderson Consulting) professional steeped in high-level consulting methodologies. In two years, he's reduced costs in his department by 30-65%, depending on how you want to figure it, by using Linux and open-source technologies. According to Robinson, he's only getting started.

"In 2002, about two percent of the county's computer servers were Linux", Robinson recently told reporters from the Modesto Bee. "This year, about one-quarter of the servers are Linux. That number is expected to increase to more than one-third by next year." Robinson also said that "he expects the county will save money in the long run by moving to Linux because it won't have to pay software licenses every year, which nickel and dime you to death and can be very costly".

After reading this article, I made a call to Stanislaus County and found Robinson. He gave me another number to a VoIP phone, and soon we starting talking about Linux and saving taxpayers money. After a few minutes, I realized Stanislaus had cornered a pro.

Welcome to a High-Tech County

A couple of years ago, meeting government officials interested in Linux surprised me. Recently, the incidence of inquires has become somewhat commonplace, especially with initiatives being introduced in states such as Massachusetts, Virginia, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Utah. People in government work want to know how they can join the march to open-source.

Even with this flurry of new activity, I hadn't come across a government organization with the sophistication of Stanislaus County--welcome to a well-run, model county government. I personally wish government people in Dallas County, Texas, would take a look at how Robinson and his colleagues do business.

If you make it to the Stanislaus County Web site and dig around, you'll find some interesting business technology. This county has a vision, mission and values. It sounds like an MBA program in action. But according to the communities, these people walk the talk. According to the Web site, the Board of Supervisors have fashioned some priorities, including:

  • Ensuring a safe, healthy community.

  • Facilitating economic development.

  • Delivering excellent community services.

  • Promoting efficient government operations.

  • Achieving multi-jurisdictional cooperation.

  • Providing model community leadership.

The board also created a vision of "a county that is respected for its service in the community and is known as the best in America". In line with its vision, the board established a mission that states, "Stanislaus County serves the public interest by promoting public health, safety, welfare and the local economy in an efficient cost-effective manner." Finally, the board puts its values up for all to see. "We:

  • respect each other.

  • partner with our customers.

  • encourage ideas.

  • focus on prevention.

  • create leaders.

  • take pride in our work.

  • share our learning.

Imagine these values in action, and it's not surprising that this organization has turned to a commodity hardware platform and deployed Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Strategic Government in Action

Although Robinson and I discussed the strides made in his department, I also found this information on the county's Web site. That's something rarely seen in the US; it certainly does not happen where I reside.

The Strategic Business Technology (SBT) division provides information technology services and support for all county departments and divisions. These services include but are not limited to Help Desk, desktop support, financial and payroll system support, shared countywide information technology infrastructure support, email hosting services, wide area network support, local area network support, internet services, application integration/development, electronic document management services (EDM), geographical information systems services (GIS), county website support and technology/business support.

This past year SBT delivered the ability to provide real-time streaming audio and video broadcast through the internet and the intranet, a new Check Reconciliation application for the County Treasurer, a GIS polling location site application for the Clerk Recorder, a GIS application, with the addition of (20) new layers, for the Children and Families First Commission, as well as a new county website. SBT has also provided substantial "in-house" technology training for the county in the areas of operation systems and architectures, telecommunications, programming languages and end user applications.



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The 20-year-old GRASS in its

will m's picture

The 20-year-old GRASS in its latest GPL'd version 5.7 is easily as powerful as ESRI's ArcGIS. Open source GIS allows small governments (and NGO's and start-ups) to break out of vendor lock-in bigtime.

Linux All The Way

Free Credit Repair's picture

Linux is the best but I feel it's not marketed enough thats why M$ get away with it

I'm completly agree with

sonicwall tz 170's picture

I'm completly agree with you.I think it's the most secure Operating system
sonicwall TZ 170

We think this is an

Home Refurbish Course's picture

We think this is an inspiring article.

I choose my very sexy lades

My XXX Ladies's picture

I choose my very sexy lades and make sure their the best, just like this article.

A very enlightening article.

new thumbs daily's picture

A very enlightening article.

"I've come to realize that I can't say Linux is for everybody,"

Anonymous's picture

"I've come to realize that I can't say Linux is for everybody," Owens said. "You don't have a lot of fancy bells and whistles with Linux yet, but it's getting there."

To the opposite, I've come to realize that Linux is very much ready for everyone after I tried SimplyMEPIS Linux distribution/Live CD earlier this month. Now, I truly understand that everybody can use Linux today, not just Linux nerds.


Ready for everyone?

Anonymous's picture

To the opposite, I've come to realize that Linux is very much ready for everyone

When it can run something as good as Dragon NatSpeak, Linux will be ready for my Uncle; when there is a huge cache of high-quality kids edutainment games and "small stuff" like Calendar Creator and Greeting Card Maker, it'll be ready for The Family.

Until then, no, it's sadly not ready for everyone.

But how on earth can you put

Anonymous's picture

But how on earth can you put up with all the rubbish in MS Windows - you should try Linux, even if only to see how rubbish free it is!

Linux does not treat you as being brain-dead.

Susie Right.

Open Source GIS

Chopper206's picture

As you would expect with any county government, there are several references to GIS in the article. I'm wondering what Stanislaus County is doing to migrate away from GIS vendors, probably ESRI's ArcGIS, etc.? At the Open Source GIS Conference 2004 in June at Ottawa there were 17 open source GIS's profiled, including some Java-based GIS. The 20-year-old GRASS in its latest GPL'd version 5.7 is easily as powerful as ESRI's ArcGIS. Open source GIS allows small governments (and NGO's and start-ups) to break out of vendor lock-in bigtime.

Big Step

Minor's picture

Hi, I'm from Costa Rica.
I've been fighting for the cause of Linux. Own government are still with microsoft but here the influence of the open source is becoming to mean the next generation of O.S. to everything (desktops and servers)

Great idea!! Linux for ever !!


Ilya Shubin 's picture

I decided to use the wisdom I gained in a lifetime of experience to accept the things I can't change. I also think that anyone in America who believes our government cares about us lives in a dream world. I don't care if you're a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or whatever. The people running for office are politicians. They don't listen and they don't care.

Does that mean I won't muckrake, write and investigate? No, it doesn't mean that. I just won't work with politicians who claim they want to save our citizens money, keep jobs in the US and help all people in the US survive above the poverty level.