Open source has failed to catch on with local government - report

By Sooraj Shah
12 May 2014 View Comments
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Open source technology has failed to catch on with local government, according to a briefing by the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU), a think-tank that aims to strengthen local democracy.

The organisation's associate, Stuart Bentley, said that digital technology has the potential to transform the way people work in local government, and that advances in technology could help councils to address the digital divide.

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But while mentioning different uses of technology such as wearable devices, connected household goods and making council data more open, he said that "the exact nature of this technology is transient", and that open source was one of those mentioned regularly that has failed to make an impact in local government.

He does say open source has its place in local government in "niche, back-office applications", but adds that problems replicating automated interfaces to Microsoft Office products through Open or Libre Office are holding back open source technology.

"Complex spreadsheets with macros, as often used by finance people, don't migrate well into current open source products," he said.

He explained that the costs of open source are in deployment, configuration and support rather than software licences.

"So if there's a niche requirement it depends on how niche and who's expected to look after it," he said.

Bentley then suggested that open source technology is not simpler or cheaper, "just different".

Indeed, local government CIO Jos Creese recently told Computing that each time Hampshire County Council looks at open source for desktop, Microsoft has proved cheaper.

"The point is that the true cost is in the total cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the licence cost. So I don't have a dogma about open source over Microsoft, but proprietary solutions - from Microsoft, SAP to Oracle and others - need to justify themselves and to work doubly hard to have flexible business models to help us further our aims," he said.

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