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How Open Source and Low Code Can Help Fix the UK Government’s Software Skills Crisis

How open source technology and low code can help solve the UK government's software and developer skills crisis.

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According to the results of Acquia’s new benchmark study, the UK government is facing a software skills crisis. We recently completed research to better understand the UK government’s approach to software development and how government departments are using open source technology to deliver projects. The initiative also looked at software developer vacancy rates, a key metric for capacity and growth. Dev vacancy rates are an essential metric in a post-COVID world where all citizens expect all of their government services and information to be readily available to them online.

The findings on developer resource availability were stark. Of the 12 government departments that responded to our information requests, we found an average vacancy rate of 28%. The absence of these resources significantly impacts things like delivery times and cost as departments outsource to compensate for reduced internal capacity.

When looking at open source usage, the results were mixed; even though Downing Street's Technology Code of Practice states that open source technology should be preferred where possible. 

The Department for Work and Pensions reported only using open source code to build between 3.5 and 3.7 percent of its applications. Yet, 90 percent of services developed by the Cabinet Office are built using open source, as are 100 percent of the services for the Department for Transport. Yet, despite the Technology Code of Practice highlighting all of the benefits of using open source for governments, the average result for UK government departments using open source code in their projects is well under 50%.

We can do better. At Acquia, we are firm advocates of open source. Our founder and CTO is also the founder of the Drupal project and Acquia is the largest contributor to Drupal’s open source code. We also believe that it can be instrumental to governments everywhere who want to deliver world class digital services for their citizens. Dries discussed on his own blog how governments should embrace the idea of public (open) code being used to serve the public good. 

How Adopting Open Source in Government Helps Organizations Better Serve Constituents 

No one wants to reinvent the wheel. Yet, when it comes to software, we see both businesses and governments doing just that. How? By commissioning features that are already available in open source projects to be built new over and over again. 

Open source projects, such as Drupal, provide organizations with access to tens of thousands of pre-built features (known as modules in Drupal) which you can choose from as needed. Not only does this save organizations money and accelerate delivery times, it also reduces risk. In most cases, these features will have been tested live by thousands of other businesses or government departments previously.

    PULL OUT BOX   THE BENEFITS OF OPEN SOURCE SUMMARISED BY THE UK GOVERNMENT'S TECHNOLOGY CODE OF PRACTICE:   By using open source, your technology project or programme could benefit from:  Solving common problems with readily available open source technology Saving time and resources for customised solutions to solve rare or unique problems Lowering implementation and running costs Avoiding vendor lock-in and increasing compatibility with a range of stakeholders

    Open source communities also give organizations access to a much wider pool of talent compared to most proprietary platforms. There are over 1 million registered Drupal developers, and that number is growing fast. Training is freely and widely available, so skills can be kept up to date easily.

    Why Low Code Democratizes Technology 

    Adopting open source technologies can help deliver more value and give you access to the talent pool you need, but open source alone it isn’t the answer to everything. For larger enterprises who have specific needs around hosting, security and support, we are seeing them embrace both open source code as well as a low code approach to simplify the site building process and make creating digital experiences more accessible to all sides of a business

    Low-code site building is part of a movement that Scott Brinker refers to as “the democratization of technology.” This describes how web and app development projects are no longer the sole domain of skilled developers and technologists, but instead extended to a wider community of “citizen developers,” including marketers, designers and content editors. 

    One capability, unique to Acquia, is our low code site building tool, Site Studio. Site Studio allows non-developers to build and theme Drupal websites using our innovative drag-and-drop interfaces. With less involvement in the theming and page building, developers are freed up to focus on higher value tasks such as building applications and services. 


    This significantly helps with any shortages in developer resources, as a significant amount of the work required on a project can be done by empowering content editors, marketers and designers to do much more. 

    The Acquia UK Government Accelerator

    Acquia already works with over 60 public sector teams in the UK and has recently launched our UK Government Accelerator, tailored to help any UK government department, local council or affiliated organization who wants to build websites based on the Government Design System (GDS). Included in the tool are pre-built components, styles and layouts that match everything you’ll find in the GDS, ready to go out of the box. 

    Not only do you get the design kit, you also get Aquia’s Cloud Platform hosting and a Site Studio licence at competitive rates that are only available for our government customers.

    How Acquia Supports Governments Around the Globe 

    At Acquia, we already support dozens of governments around the world to deliver high value, secure solutions that run everything from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to the New York State Office of Information Technology. Acquia also supports a number of digital properties for local and federal agencies within the UK, including Harlow Council and the Leicestershire County Council. The security, reliability and agility of Acquia’s platform and Drupal’s open architecture enables government departments and agencies to effectively deliver on their mission and scale their efforts without compromising on security and compliance. 


    The launch of the UK Accelerator is only the first of many initiatives that we are working on to help governments around the world do more and do it faster. We are currently working on a US version, based on the U.S. Web Design System (USWDS) and more regions will follow.

    To find out more speak with your account manager, or if you’re new to Acquia, contact us to arrange a demo. 

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