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Open Source as a catalyst for Digital by Default. Public Sector ICT.

Open Source as a catalyst for Digital by Default. Public Sector ICT from James Governor


Yesterday I participated in a really interesting workshop run by Software AG for public sector organisations seeking to modernise their IT infrastructures and approaches. I presented on the role of open source in government, particularly its role in modernising the culture.  Open source should not be seen as a goal in itself, but as a means to end. The end, in the UK at least, being Digital by Default, as defined by the talented folks over at Government Digital Service (GDS). One of the unalloyed successes of the current UK government has been its strongly activist stance to improve public sector IT, in order to reduce transaction costs and improve services to citizens. Or put another way – how to stop wasting billions of pounds a year on IT projects that completely fail to deliver on their objectives. Well done Cabinet Office!  But the Cabinet Office can only really lead by example  - the ministries themselves need to implement the changes.

The session was excellent, although it confirmed that massive outsourcing contracts really are the biggest problem when it comes to wasting taxpayer money on IT, and many of them are not up for renewal for some time.


Anyway I just wanted to highlight the suggestions on my wrap up slide

Digital by Default > Open Source (open source is a means)
Service Design > Open Source (service design and the user story trump everything)
Open Source != Non-Commercial (open source doesn’t mean you don’t have a throat to choke)
Open Source != Open Standards (this confusion has been around since I joined the industry, and it’s still just as unhelpful)
Open Data (how to win friends and influence people)
New approaches to governance for IP, contract, supplier, project and portfolio management (open source does change everything)
Use Open Source to change the culture/as an organisational principle (see above)
Successful Open Source requires a technical competence (GDS is a great example. you can’t leave IT to procurement and legal people)
Impact on application development
agile, continuous deployment, microservices/APIs, TDD, DevOps, NoSQL, UX (cloud/web/doing things better)
Learn and Borrow from the Web – code, events, publications, tools
Software License fees are fair game, claim the rebate (don’t allow SIs to replace proprietary software with open source and not pass on the savings)
Build, Deploy, Iterate – quick wins. Try before you buy. (join the maker movement, it will turn you into a more effective purchaser)

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5 Responses

  1. You missed out the assumption that open source is always cheaper – it is not. There are a lot of hidden costs that IT is very bad at accounting for, it is not all about licence costs – they just unfortunately are rather easily visible…

    Also, please don’t assume that every govt dept (or enterprise/SMB for that matter) has or even wants developers – they are not free either… ;-)

    Open Source is great in the right place, and many people (including VMware) use and embrace it, but don’t assume that it is the answer to all problems. It is certainly NOT a defence against “lock-in”.

    Joe BaguleyJune 5, 2014 @ 4:18 pmReply
    • cheers joe – your point is reasonably well made. but companies selling licenses are finding it harder to do so for a very good reason.

      of course i don’t assume public sector organisations have developers. The opposite is true. I assume they don’t. Public sector IT in the UK has been a wasteland for practitioners for a long time. Indeed organisations need to rebuild their practitioner competences in order to become more effective in everything IT, including purchasing. That is the GDS model.

      Really – you read the things above and came away with the idea I was arguing open source is the answer to all problems? On the contrary it is a means to beginning to fix them. I clearly make the point that Digital by Default is *more important than* open source.

      jgovernorJune 5, 2014 @ 5:20 pmReply
      • I felt that some readers may get the idea that Open Source is the answer to all problems, hence my comment.

        I agree that the practice of IT needs to be turned on its head. Silos need to be broken down. Service and app-focused as opposed to infrastructure-focused teams need to be created.

        PaaS will drive this, but sadly most organisations are not aligned or organised to consume a PaaS, or even IaaS at the moment, let alone think about building one of their own.

        The problem in our industry is not one of technology, all the cool technology is available, both to purchase at a reasonable price and as Open Source.

        The problem is people and process, and a risk-driven reluctance to any change in what should really be the fastest moving part of any business.

        The winners of the future will be those who can deploy, modify and retire apps in hours or minutes, based on analytics and agile processes. But the focus must be on apps, not the plumbing.

        It appears that once again James we are violently agreeing…

        Joe BaguleyJune 5, 2014 @ 9:25 pmReply
        • fair enough Joe. but this was a workshop with the explicit aim of examining why and how the public sector are being encouraged to adopt open source software. as you say we’re in agreement – people and process. we spent a lot of time talking about agility.

          “The winners of the future will be those who can deploy, modify and retire apps in hours or minutes, based on analytics and agile processes. But the focus must be on apps, not the plumbing.” – right now that’s the web, and *all* web companies use open source.

          jgovernorJune 6, 2014 @ 9:12 amReply
          • Indeed, I would agree that possibly all web companies use open source, but they don’t all use just open source…

            Joe BaguleyJune 6, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

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