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Change In St. Louis County Law Could Save Thousands In Technology Costs

technology computer upgrade
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
A recent change in St. Louis County's purchasing law could leads to thousands of dollars in savings on technology costs.

St. Louis County has made it easier for its information technology department to purchase open-source software.

The County Council approved a change to the purchasing law in November. County IT officials say they hope to make the first purchase under the new law within the month, and believe it could save the county thousands of dollars in the long term.

Open-source software companies sell products that allow purchasers to add or change things. The software is often cheaper than products like Microsoft Office.  

“A lot of times it’s because they don’t have those sales forces or those marketing forces that they have to support,” said Charles Henderson, the county’s acting director of information technology.

But, he added, that lack of a sales or marketing team also means open-source companies aren’t always aware that governments are looking for software.

Before the county council changed the purchasing law, the only way a company could do business with the county was to submit bids. Now, IT staff can actively seek out open-source software companies and get information so those companies can be considered for contracts.

The IT department asked for the change to purchase a new content-management system for the county’s website, Henderson said. He said open-source software could work better for tasks like online permitting.

“I’m very excited about this new direction,” he said. “I think it will help IT help departments deliver services a lot more efficiently.”

Chris Bay, vice president of education at LaunchCode, an organization that teaches computer coding, cautioned that open-source software isn’t a silver bullet for costs.

“The thing that, from my perspective, open source really provides as an advantage is really about the flexibility and transparency to own, update and monitor the use of the software and the associated data,” he said.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.