UK government starts to get open source

As the Guardian Technology blog notes the UK government is once again trying to push Government Departments into looking at Open Source software solutions at least as an alternative to the proprietary software we all know and love.

This is not the big stick approach which has been used in some other countries, here the policy is from a procurement perspective to just make sure open source solutions are see viewed on an equal footing, taking into account the total cost of ownership of new systems recognising the many years of support and maintenance that will follow the initial purchase.

osgovThis I hope will not just be seen as the simplistic religious debate between Windows v Linux, Microsoft Office v Open Office, or MySQL v Oracle, because actually it is not in terms of packaged software where the real benefits can be found.

The real big costs in Government IT projects go into the bespoke software development customising or building additional functionality around off the shelf software like Oracle or SAP, or from the GI perspective ArcGIS.

This is where this is massive potential, for much of the code developed solves very similar problems for different departments and agencies across government. As things currently  stand none of this code is reused and each department pays for similar code to be developed for them, often I’m afraid to say by the same vendors.

So for example in the GI world, the data management systems developed to build and maintain the maps for Ordnance Survey is not so different from that needed by the UK Hydrographic Survey, or at a larger scale the tools used by the Land Registry to maintain your title deed plans are not so different to what is needed  to build and maintain OS Mastermap.

If the code developed to meet these needs was made open source, the initial code base could be used and maintained by all government agencies each benefiting from potential improvements developed by the others, and the tax payer never have to fund more reinvention.

There is once small hitch with this, companies like Google are very open about their use and support of open source software tools, which form the backbone of their back office systems, and which can be maintained and extended internally by skilled engineers.

Over the last 10 years most of the IT expertise has left government departments, meaning that very few actual software engineers or developers are left within government.. They have all been outsourced. This means that the potential benefit is reduced internal maintenance of code and its development cannot occur within house, another reason perhaps government should think about re-skilling in IT ?

 

Written and submitted from home, using my home 802.11 network.

2 comments

  1. Stuart Mitchell

    This makes increasing sense, particularly in the current economic climate. But looking even further afield, as we draw towards more federated services, we want to encourage specific government agencies to specialise in their areas, providing services to other agencies.

    To do this requires a shared common approach and the concept of re-use where possible. Outsourcing, to a large extent, flies in the face of that. A third party supplier may want to ensure that their own skills are deployed many times, even if only small configuration changes are needed, in order to create what would seem a ‘total bespoke solution.

    Re-skilling in IT makes sense the a public sector where you want to realise a true service based, federated approach.

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