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OpenLMIS is Seeking the Next Chapter in Open Source Sustainability

By Guest Writer on July 15, 2020

openlmis open source sustainability

OpenLMIS is the leading logistics system used to track health products across national supply chains. It is also open source software, which is a key reason for both its deployment success and sustainability challenge.

Open source software is often billed as “free” software, but it’s free like a puppy and configuration, support, and software maintenance costs need to be covered for it to be effectively integrated into any given health system. Donor funding can pay for initial design, deployment, and adoption of OpenLMIS, but it is not available to cover ongoing support and maintenance costs indefinitely. To quote Digital Square:

The misconception of open source as “free” may be better understood through the Romance languages. Open source is libre, not gratis: free as in speech, not as in lunch.

OpenLMIS Approach to Sustainability

OpenLMIS believes that diversification of funding streams is fundamental for open source projects to be sustained over time. The OpenLMIS community is directly addressing this challenge.  Recently, we released a Call for Expression of Interest (EOI) that seeks a private sector partner whose business model is aligned with maintaining OpenLMIS as a public good.

Our plan for 2020-21 is to engage and evaluate potential partners to transition the core software management and operational functions. Our objective is to sustain and strengthen public health supply chains at scale. Beyond the additional funding that is possible with this model, we see other benefits:

  • Extend demand and reach of the software to new geographies.
  • Leverage different technical experience that will benefit the core open source platform.
  • Explore technological innovations or services as part of the software.
  • Share lessons and serve as a pathway for other digital public goods that are confronting the same situation.

As the leading LMIS tool on the African continent, we see exciting opportunities connecting OpenLMIS to existing country open source ecosystems, leveraging the value of OpenLMIS data, and exploring ways that OpenLMIS functionality could serve private health markets.

OpenLMIS lends itself to being integrated into existing commercial product offerings (ERPs for example), or to be utilized as a sales channel for related products. There are many exciting opportunities for companies to leverage a globally recognized technology to contribute to global digital tools and building stronger health systems.

We encourage interested companies to respond to our EOI and engage in partnership conversations with OpenLMIS.

Community Transition Away from Donors

The decision to transition from our current donor-funded business model to a new partnership model was not taken lightly or unilaterally. Community partners were at the heart of this decision; and we embarked on this journey together.

After extensively researching the financial and product opportunities for OpenLMIS, the OpenLMIS Community concluded that partnering with the private sector is the best way for OpenLMIS to serve its core mission of strengthening health supply chains in LMICs, and ultimately saving lives. OpenLMIS partner John Snow Inc. summarizes their enthusiasm for this partnership:

“As a long-time partner, contributor, and advocate of OpenLMIS, we at JSI are very excited about the prospect of collaboration with a new partner who can take OpenLMIS into the future so it can continue to fulfil its mission of strengthening national health supply chains.” – Ashraf Islam, Software Development Team Lead, John Snow Inc.

Our partners in the OpenLMIS community have a history of innovative cross-sectoral collaboration to achieve impact at scale. PATH has engaged in numerous successful public-private partnerships to grow and scale health products.

One example is their collaboration with Temptime and the WHO on a technology that was originally designed for the food industry, and transformed it into what are now known as vaccine vial monitors (VVM) routinely used to determine whether vaccines are damaged by heat. CHAI worked with the government and private sugar industry in Guatemala to reach high-risk migrant workers with malaria diagnosis and treatment.

OpenLMIS and our partners are embracing the need for change and using it as an opportunity to re-think our approach to scale and sustain the software. We are proactively asking hard but essential questions to help us shape our new future:

  • What specific opportunities exist to integrate OpenLMIS with new technology to strengthen its impact on public health systems?
  • What private sector channels can we leverage to spread OpenLMIS around the globe and provide country-level tech support?
  • What other use cases can OpenLMIS be applied to which could generate revenue?

What’s Next for OpenLMIS?

OpenLMIS was founded on the principle of cross-sectoral collaboration for a scalable and sustainable technology solution that would create healthier communities around the globe. Now, with 10 years’ experience improving public health supply chains, we hope that our experience in this area can serve as a blueprint for other global goods that are also charting a path to sustainability.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for the long-term sustainability of open source projects, a strategic private sector partnership will enable OpenLMIS to establish a sustainable model and thrive for many years to come.

By Rebecca Alban, OpenLMIS Community Manager at VillageReach.

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