Open source: The government's commitment so far

By Nicola Brittain
28 Nov 2011 View Comments

The promotion of open source and open standards is a key tenet of the government's ICT strategy, but did the publication of the Open Source Procurement Toolkit earlier this month and recent government initiatives provide the boost needed to increase understanding and procurement of open source within the public sector?

Further reading

Open source is currently in use across several government departments, with Drupal powering the Cabinet Office website and some DirectGov services, Transport for London's Oystercard using an open source infrastructure, and the Department of Health using open source to work with EU partners.

In addition, some departments are creating their own open source technologies, such as the Department for the Climate Change, which has created FoxOpen. However, most of the technology used by government remains proprietary, with the Department for Work and Pensions, for example, still using comprehensive proprietary products from single vendors such as IBM.

The government's open source policy was established in 2004, but CIO for the Home Office and the senior responsibility officer for open source and open standards, Robin Pape, acknowledged in conversation with Computing that there had been limited progress towards a truly level playing field for open source. "This meant that opportunities for better value solutions were being missed," he said.

What is being done to promote OS?
There have been several recent announcements and initiatives that aim to create a 'level playing field' for open source technology. This was the aim established by the government ICT strategy launched in March.

Over the past six months, the government has established several bodies that aim to "break down the technical and cultural barriers that impede the use of open source solutions across government", as was also stated in the strategy.

These include an Open Source Implementation Group, a System Integrator Forum and an online Government Open Solutions Forum.

The government's Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP), which fleshed out the original ICT strategy and was released in October, reiterated the commitment that open source solutions should be considered as a matter of course against proprietary solutions based on value for money and total cost of ownership.

The major open source milestone detailed by SIP was that the Cabinet Office publish an Open Source Procurement Toolkit providing best practice for evaluating the use of open source solutions.

The toolkit contained advice and information about open source software, open source vendors and running costs. It also includes a guidance paper by the CESG, an arm of GCHQ that covers security matters relating to public sector use of open source software.

In the past, the CESG's rules on information assurance were criticised for hindering uptake of open source, but the agency denied this, saying its Code of Connection and guidance were being interpreted incorrectly.

The new toolkit aimed to clarify the CESG's policies around security and open source.

And as is the case with much of the government's ICT strategy, the toolkit is a work in progress. As Pape explained: "There will be at least one more version of the toolkit before the end of April 2012, which will take account of the feedback we are currently receiving on v1.0."


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