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How government can spend less money on IT investments

I know people mostly know me for either talking and writing about social media or web usability. But over the past few years, I’ve been involved in so many different government related projects that I’ve managed to pick up a more bigger picture of government ICT. More recently I’ve learnt a lot about open source in government, so I think I’ll talk a little bit about it.

This post will delve into how government can spend less money on IT investments using open source. But before we go deep into that, let’s have a look at something all of us are familiar with, the government’s ICT strategy.

Government ICT Strategy 2011

The recent government ICT strategy published in 2011 highlights the need to better control ICT expenditure. But this does not necessarily mean spending less. It also means spending better, more intelligently.

Open Source Poster - Liz AzyanSome of the ICT strategy 2011 themes are: -

  • We should be looking at whether we could be better use cloud approaches to using IT,
  • Consolidating networks,
  • Can we make better use of SMEs,
  • We should relook at our engagement with our suppliers. Do we have enough of a mix? Do we have enough of a spread?
  • Open source
  • Open Standards

Getting the best value from the IT market

If government really wants to get the best value from the IT market, we really need to start to understand open source, open architecture and open standards.  We often associate ‘value’ with how much we’re getting for the amount of money we spend, and with our government forced to do more with less, its never been a better time for open source to stand up and get noticed.

So why are some government departments still not considering open source in these hard financial times? Just to show you how ‘detached’ government is from open source is, just take a look at these headlines over the years.

To help things out a bit, I thought I’d present some open source facts and figures.

Open Source facts and figures

Did you know that: -

  • Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, New York Stock Exchange, London Stock Exchange, Citrix, Apple, Juniper, IronPort, Yahoo, NetApp, VMWare, YouTube, Flickr, Amazon, Whitehouse.gov, CIA/FBI.gov, CERN (16000 VMs), US DoD, Guardian, Disney, Cisco, French Air Force, US Navy are all powered by open source
  • Approximately 80% of internet websites are powered by open source
  • 90% of “Top 500 Supercomputers” run open source
  • Open Source is already being used in the UK public sector – Government Digital Service (GDS), The Met Office, Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), The National Archives (TNA) and many more
  • Open source is used in space by NASA (1997)
  • Open source is used in your android phone and your Mac

 Open source barriers in government

According to Tariq Rashid (Cabinet Office’s Tech Lead Architect) barriers to open Source in government is “not understanding what open Source is.”

So, what is open source?

  • Its just software like any other: There are more similarities to open and closed software’s than not.
  • FREEDOM to use it in any way you want: There are differences and that is in their license.  The license is not a unit of purchase, like closed software’s. It’s a term of user and it guarantees certain freedoms.  And if you’re experienced in public sector IT, you’ll know that some of the licenses and contracts that we engage in don’t have that freedom. We wave a flag around every year around reuse, but we are sometimes constrained in our ability to do that because of the licenses and contracts we’ve engaged in.
  • FREEDOM to redistribute: If we’ve improved it, if we’ve built solutions around its much easier to share and reuse those. And we want to. We don’t want to keep reinventing the wheel. We don’t want to pay twice or more for the same thing and effort.
  • FREEDOM to access the code and modify it: This means that if you want to, you can access and modify the code.  You don’t have to be a developer, a coder, an expert in PHP, Perl and C++ to use open source. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. You can take it packaged, wrapped in a service and import it to perform specific tasks just like any other software.  But if you want to, you can change it, adjust it and integrate it with other stuff. So it’s a choice, its not a barrier.
  • Obligations to share your improvements and changes: In most government use cases, it isn’t triggered. There is a fear sometimes in government, that if we use open source, we’ve exposed ourselves.  We’ll have to open up all of our systems. That isn’t the case.

So, I hope this blog post has somewhat helped for people to understand what open source is and start to consider it as a solution and start saving tax payers money.

Open source technologies

Some of the open source technologies I’ve personally worked with and could give you some pointers on or put you in touch with some of the people I know there, are listed below.

  • Alfresco – ECM, Mobile, Cloud, CMS
  • eXo Platform - Enterprise-scale portal, CMS
  • RedHat - operating system platforms, middleware, applications, management products, and support, training, and consulting services.
  • Liferay – Enterprise portal solution
  • Ephesoft- Intelligent Document Capture / Scanning system

Other recommended reading on open source for government: -

Hope you’ve found this useful.

About Liz Azyan

Liz is a CREATIVE digital professional dedicated to helping individuals, governments and businesses realize their digital goals. She offers digital consultancy services on her website LizAzyan.com Liz is also a Google Fellowship Recipient (individuals selected based on their work and initiative in the arenas of technology, politics and social entrepreneurship), an invited expert panel on the Guardian’s Public Leader Network and has spoken at many public events and conferences on the subject of digital engagement.

6 comments

  1. Great post Liz and I love the LGEO ‘you are what you tweet’ digital poster!

    • Cheers Richard. Glad you like it. To be honest, that poster is my favourite too! Feel free to let me know if you have any good quotes, I’ll make it into a poster for you. :)

      Liz

  2. I liked the clarity of your post, Liz. I generally am in favour of open source and have been for years.

  3. Surely you have to balance the up reduced front costs of Open Source software against the increased cost of support when compared to ‘off the shelf’ software. Integration is so much better with mainstream products than with Open Source and that is why many Local Authorities are inclined to stay with them rather than gamble and take the risk of using open source software.

  4. The Limux project, (a city) Extramadura, (a region) the LSE TCO study (generally) show how to achieve cost savings with open source software. The Wales government ICT strategy follows Bristol City Council in recognising that using open source software enables money to spent with local companies, bringing further economic benefits (the New Economics Foundation suggest that £1 spent locally generates £1.20 for the local economy compared to 37p went spent otherwise.

    A local authority using open source software can stimulate the expansion of a skilled local workforce by enabling and requiring customisation and development locally (cf the Olympics ‘boost’)

    All sofware use requires training – open source software enables the development of a local training capability.

    Using open source software enables a local authority to take control of its future. It’s a strategic decision, enabling the local authority to retain control of its upgrade cycle rather than have its supplier determine it. Government has published studies showing open source software has a reduced hardware requirement and also extends the life of legacy hardware.

    If your local authority was streaming meetings using Silverlight then its got a legacy problem and a replatforming problem. Doesn’t happen with open source.

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