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Mark Taylor

Written by staff at Sirius Corporation, the Open Source services group, this blog seeks to dispel any FUD around the use of Open Source software in the Enterprise and provide perspectives on business, economics, politics, philosophy and the environment.

The government gets really serious about open source

Cabinet Office lays down the open source law

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Monday 21st February 2011 saw the first 'Open Source System Integrators Forum' held by the Cabinet Office and I'd like to share a few modest bits of news with you all...

Firstly, the occurrence of the event itself is news. The Cabinet Office assembled all the big System Integrators who make up the majority of UK Government and Public Sector IT spending, currently running between £16 billion to £21 billion every year.

I was there too, not due to the proportion of this spend which comes Sirius' way I hasten to add, but simply to provide some Open Source expertise.

The Message of the day was simple, and delivered with panache by Deputy Government CIO Bill McCluggage and other members of the Open Source team in the Cabinet Office (yes, that's right - there is an Open Source team and a Director responsible for their plans). The message was "We want you to give us Open Source software, in fact we insist!"

I have been critical of past Government efforts precisely because there was no action plan. This time round the Government have a good one, and people at senior levels responsible for delivering it.

The three key action areas were identified as:

1) Update the procurement process:

This is well understood by the many parties looking at the issue to be key. The short version is that innovative SMEs must gain market share (the Government target is 25% of all spend), and the big SIs must offer Open Source.

2) Educate the user.

Government officials, customers and procurers need to understand and be comfortable with Open Source. This is becoming a common theme, with both the recent PASC (Public Accounts Select Committee) inquiry and the NAO (National Audit Office) report pointing to this necessity. The Government needs to become more sophisticated in its understanding of the trends in IT, or it will continue to over-pay for yesterday's paradigm.

3) Expect SIs to supply.
As Bill McCluggage pointedly pointed out "We can't buy what you don't offer us". This event put the big SIs on notice that the UK Government and Public Sector want to buy Open Source. You will see much more on this in the coming days and weeks.

Amongst other initiatives, there is a new set of guidelines whereby projects will not go ahead unless an Open Source solution is been considered, so if no Open Source route is shown as considered in the proposal, it's out...

To support this there is a new assessment model being built which maps specific Open Source 'products' to parts of the Government stack. If components from the assessment model do not appear for consideration in Public Sector procurements, their absence can be challenged.

There is a sister assessment model for use in procurement as to whether and to what extent the SI has included Open Source in it's proposal.

But what about the issue of *implementation* I can hear you say, and of course I agree! This is the crucial test - it's time for UK Gov to walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk...

My favourite announcement of the day is the Government skunkworks project, where reusable solutions will be built from Open Source components. It's live now, and headed by the CIO of the DCLG and DCMS. This time it's serious...

The move to Open Source is being driven both from No 10, and from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. You will hear the Prime Minister talking about Open Government quite a bit over the next few weeks. Open Government consciously includes Open Source as well as Open Standards and Open Data, and this is being driven directly from the top of the Coalition Government.

Sirius will continue to bring Open Source Software to the UK Public Sector... We challenge the big SIs to join us and help reduce the UK's IT bill...

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