Open source projects have long been at a disadvantage in the public sector in comparison to solutions offered by long-established proprietary software vendors. This issue was underlined in a recent interview1 with Robin Pape, chief information officer for the Home Office, who identified the cultural barriers standing in the way of IT chiefs considering utilising the advantages of open source.
But with budget cuts looming and economic constraints, isn’t it time that the Government looked towards cost effective open source solutions to make those much needed savings?
For dedicated open source developers, there is light at the end of the tunnel. With the launch of the Government’s open source toolkit to enable the assessment of projects, departments are required to ensure that open source options are considered alongside traditional solutions for every IT investment.
Added to this, the well documented catalogue of pricey vendor lock-in stories, costing billions of pounds, are a catalyst to public sector departments looking elsewhere for the best IT deals. In this context, it’s surprising then that the overall UK Government approach to open source solutions has been rather lax, especially in view of the potentially vast cost-savings it can create.
This landmark launch of the open source toolkit firmly cements the developer communities’ reputation as a reliable and – more importantly – cost efficient alternative to proprietary software, yet there are few examples of the toolkit being readily put into action.
Other European countries and the US have already made great strides in engaging with the open source community in delivering innovative new solutions to cuts costs and improve public services online.
The Netherlands and France have successfully embraced open source to deliver greater value through collaboration and efficiency to the taxpayer. Whilst in the US, open source communities, such as Drupal, run a large amount of government sites safely and securely as the approved and standardised platform.
There is evidence that the UK Government also recognises advantages of open source go beyond simple cost-savings. The Cabinet Office has documented the benefits of open source through the commissioning of joint research2 with the London School of Economics into the total cost of ownership of open source software.
A key finding of the two year study, examining members from the community of firms offering support services to public bodies, is that many early adopters of open source applications in the public sector also experience reduced vendor lock-in as a key benefit and argument for open-source adoption.
Interestingly, the report also suggests that the adoption of open source helps foster a culture of innovation and empowerment once local authorities are more accepting of mistakes that can be identified and rectified quickly by hand-on access to code and configurations.
It seems only right that in a time when budgets are being slashed, the Government recognises its own open source guidance. The philosophy of working with a willing community for the greater good underpins the values of the Government’s own Big Society agenda, so it seems about time this is put into firm practise, and the communities are allowed to deliver faster and more efficient solutions for users in a public and collaborative manner.