Is gov.uk going open-source?
Via webmink’s blog, I see the UK government is joining the big boys (like Obama and Medvedev) in embracing open-source. Or at least talking of it: you never know with this lot.
Anyway, Tom Watson, an MP with the splendidly Orwellian title of “Minister for Digital Engagement” has published a note on the subject. What’s more, he seems to appreciate some of the real advantages. Take for example:
The licensing policies of software suppliers, particularly where government is not treated as a single entity, and the lack of cost transparency in the supply chain, have created issues in the progress towards greater cost reduction and joining-up of services across government.
Those bland words look like a massive understatement of one of the fundamental problems of proprietary software. But then, on the next page:
ensure that systems integrators and proprietary software suppliers demonstrate the same flexibility and ability to re–use their solutions and products as is inherent in open source.
That sounds like someone who’s been-there-done-that, with a proprietary system that let him down and no way to adapt or fix it. And he knows the solution. References to concepts such as “open source culture” reinforce this impression! At the same time, it’s full of weasel-words for whomsoever may be looking for a get-out.
The actual policy states an other-things-being-equal preference for open source, and the two clauses dealing with non-open source software suggest an awareness of the dangers of being held to ransom. Well, I guess it’s happened to them often enough! Whether the civil servants responsible for implementation of the policy (IT procurement) have a clue is another matter: the sharp-suited salesmen from the Usual Suspects will no doubt get the training to run rings around them. And budgets for rather more than just a free lunch!
An enlightened policy like this isn’t on its own a recipe for success. But it’s a very significant forward step from government IT project inevitably being an expensive disaster. And what’s more, shadow chancellor George Osborne recently commissioned a somewhat-similar note, so there’s reason to hope this policy has cross-party support.