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SA tax man eyes desktop Linux

By   |  February 22, 2006

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) issued a tender (RFT 37/2005) for a proof of concept Linux desktop solution for the tax-collecting government department on 17 February. While SARS admits that the challenge of moving to Linux on the desktop is great, a successful proof of concept could see 14 000 desktops running Microsoft Windows XP SP2 migrated to Linux.

Currently SARS runs over 700 approved applications, of which there are seven “core tax” applications. Any tenderer will have to find a way to successfully port bespoke Windows applications in a cost-effective manner. Other hurdles include “usability, end user acceptance and resistance to change”, “the cost and challenge of end user training and support”, and “a frequently encountered dependency on Microsoft Active Directory”.

The proof of concept will have to demonstrate a successful Linux desktop solution for SARS’ transactional employees in SARS’ own technology laboratory. The environment is expected to run for three months while SARS evaluates its performance, after which time it will make a decision as to the feasibility of Linux on its desktops. It’s a high business risk for bidders, who will have to burden the entire cost of the proof of concept themselves, with SARS making no guarantee as to whether they will even switch to Linux at all.

SARS is already using open source on its back-end, having migrated its SAP system to a Linux platform in 2004. Since then, it says it has seen a “significant improvement on performance and stability”. It also praises open source for being “more secure, reliable and higher quality software”, citing bug fix response times, patch management, virus risk and the ability to inspect the code as major advantages over proprietary products.

“Open Source Software (OSS) has reached a critical mass that has allowed it to enter the mainstream software market and its impact is becoming noticeable in the software industry and in society as a whole. Some of our strategic vendors such as IBM, SAP in particular, are committed to using open software as a core part of their business and are investing significantly in enhancing its already impressive capabilities,” says SARS.

A briefing session for interested parties will be held on 28 February at SARS’ offices in Pretoria. SARS was unable to comment on interest shown in the tender at this point, but noted that the tender document has been downloaded numerous times from its site. The tender closes 10 March.

In the 2004/2005 tax year, SARS collected R354.98 billion ($57.97 billion) in tax revenue.


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