The Open Source industry have been waiting the best part of ten years for the UK Government to mandate a ‘preference’ for Open Source Software (OSS) over proprietary or closed-source alternatives. I personally think it’s great - one year ago I summed up my view of the government’s stance on Open Source in one word: meaningless. OSS was being ignored, and then opposed. Now it’s finally been accepted, allowing the creation of an environment where we can state the obvious.
Is this more nonsense? Haven’t we been here before? Absolutely not! OSS and Open Standards forms a fundamental part of HMG’s strategy with Liam Maxwell mandating the preference for OSS development. The current government ICT strategy was developed in recognition of the fact that ICT is fundamental to the delivery of cost-effective public services. And in order to be responsive to the needs of all citizens and businesses in the UK they must be open and accessible to all. To meet this specific challenge, the Cabinet Office has taken steps to impose compulsory open standards, starting with interoperability and security, and works to create a level playing field for all software.
“Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its inherent flexibility.”
– Cabinet Office
Now this level playing field is tilted favouring OSS over its closed-source alternatives. I believe by doing so it is focusing on increasing standardisation of business processes and associated technologies to create the Open Architectures needed from which government can deliver new models of open and innovative public services.
The mandate will doubtless catch the attention of many government organisations but like most early adopters of OSS with in local and central government (including the Met Office, London Borough of Islington, London Borough of Camden and Wandsworth Borough council) are going to be motivated by the carrot not the stick – the benefits of cost reduction, innovation and improving their customers’ experience. These benefits are all available with transformation towards Open Architectures. Day in, day out, we work with customers from councils, Police forces, NHS Trusts and academic institutions who are already on the journey.
From my experience, the big task ahead now will be implementing and deploying the software and the operating systems. I am familiar with many organisations have failed in their attempt at adopting Open Source because it was predominantly used for tactical and non-strategic reasons made to meet immediate objectives or randomly without reference to the bigger picture. I have worked with council’s which had some Linux and OSS but no policy for its selection, adoption or management.
To counter this, my company has created an exclusive strategic assessment tool in conjunction with government bodies following our on-going engagement with Francis Maude’s Cabinet Office team to help the public sector implement Open Architectures through OSS and Open Standards. By looking at the whole IT architecture, we assess how well suited the existing environment is for the adoption of Open Architectures and what needs to be done to capitalise on it in line with the mission and business strategy.
Now local and central government can look at the strategic importance of Open Architectures as part of their mission – it won’t be about the tools, it will be about the mission and business strategy done in a managed way.
I’m looking forward to hearing more from OSS adopters, suppliers and HMG at the Open Source, Open Standards event, in April, on how this policy may facilitate further change.
By Peter Dawes-Huish, CEO & Chairman - LinuxIT