Over the past decade, I have served in various roles to deliver software for public agencies under government-funded contracts at MIT, UC Berkeley, and at transportation technology companies (the majority of that time as an academic). As transportation continues to rapidly change, and cities become increasingly reliant on software and data solutions that are hard to keep up with, I have been surprised by some common technical misconceptions that result in costly systems that are unable to adapt over time.
Several years ago, I noticed that many in the transportation space often used the terms “open standards” and “open source software” interchangeably, when they are actually quite different concepts. Open standards that are developed with a clear and transparent process are essential for ensuring flexibility and adaptability, and are almost always undeniably “good”. Whereas open source software, especially in the context of the public sector, has various pros, cons, and sometimes unexpected challenges.