There has been a lot of talk about the use of open source in government over the past few years. Francis Maude, and the Cabinet Office, have been pushing for widespread implementation for quite some time but many central government IT decision makers still seem to be hesitant about adopting new software solutions. Since the publication in March of the Government Digital Service's (GDS) Service Design Manual, it's become clear that government is starting to see open source as an option, rather than mandatory.
Despite such positive talk in the favour of this technology and its many benefits, not least of which is breaking vendor lock-in, this begs the question of what exactly is holding back Open Source adoption in government?
There are many reasons, first and foremost the perceived risk around change. Others question the reliability, saying open source is not tried and tested. Both of these points are intrinsically flawed. When done correctly, implementing open source alternatives can more often than not be very cost effective, at the very least more so than switching to another proprietary system. There are numerous examples of open source solutions being successfully and cost effectively implemented in the private sector to back this up.
The most significant barrier to open source adoption in government is however not down to the technology or software itself, it is a cultural issue. Government, and its IT decision makers, like big suppliers. Using big suppliers means that they can minimise the risk to themselves. It is also a matter of habit, particularly in central government, where civil servants are used to procuring their IT through large organisations.
In my opinion, despite government's recent announcement to ensure that SMEs will be receiving at least 25 per cent of the public sector IT budget, civil servants have become too complacent in spending their IT budgets with large organisations. By spending their budget with the big seven system integrators civil servants feel they minimise the risk associated with trying something different.
How do you get around this cultural issue? This risk averse culture has been openly acknowledged by government, which has made a concerted effort to drive the change by recently creating the Open Standards Board with the end goal of encouraging senior civil servants to become more innovative and open source minded. Up to now the government has inadvertently created a culture that resists change.
Unfortunately, at this point in time the current risk averse culture that is prevalent in government is not helping to put the innovation and cost saving it so desperately claims to desire at the top of its priority list. For a multitude of reasons, individuals simply are not willing to take the perceived "risk" of moving away from existing vendors.
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