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Open Source - Are the doors of Whitehall open?

2nd Aug 2011

It’s been a few weeks since I sat on the panel for the Chartered Institute of IT’s discussion on Open Source Knowledge Gaps Across Government and, to be honest, it’s taken a few weeks to absorb the grim reality of the situation that is the government procurement process. What I suppose I already suspected but hoped was not actually the case is, that as far as the Open Source community is concerned, government in the UK is a closed door.

"Cosy" reliance on existing suppliers

The government procurement process favours existing suppliers and large corporations and is at odds with the Open Source community. Besides which, it became abundantly clear throughout the course of the session, individual departments want to own the software not share it – collaboration between departments to reduce duplication of effort is not to the fore. As Obama did for the US, we now need visionaries in our own government to break down the walls and it needs to happen sooner rather than later if they want to save some money.

Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of The Public Administration Select Committee described the government's lack of in-house skills and a "cosy" over-reliance on large contractors for its IT is a "recipe for rip-offs". 80% of IT spend is concentrated on just 16 suppliers, he concluded "We shouldn't be putting companies in such a powerful position". [ BBC Radio 4 News Interview ]

UK at risk of falling behind

The brightest stars in Open Source community are small agencies, by nature locked out of procurement process. In contrast an eco-system in the US has flourished, enabling government departments to rapidly adopt Open Source. OpenPublic is a Drupal distribution specifically tailored to government departments needs. Acquias Government JumpStart equips staff with the necessary skills and accreditation to deliver projects internally.

Artificial barriers exist in Government departments

It was evident that few realised that Open Source software is highly capable of delivering robust, scalable and secure web platforms for public and private sector. Drupal powers Cabinet Office website, The White House and MTV UK.

Before Open Source can become widely adopted in UK Government an education process must occur to illustrate these artificial barriers no longer exist.

"Drupal is perfect to get these /open-websites up and running quickly, and makes for a great foundation to extend its functionality in the future. Plus, by using an Open Source technology, agencies can share and collaborate on both best practices and code."

Dries Buytaert, Drupal Founder.

Perhaps Whitehall should host the next Drupal Gov Days?

Further reading