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Government Open Source United Kingdom Politics

UK Goverment IT Chief Backs Open Source Suppliers 72

Posted by samzenpus
from the open-up dept.
Blacklaw writes "The UK government's deputy Chief Information Officer has outlined plans to hand public sector IT contracts over to small businesses and suppliers of open-source and cloud-based solutions in an attempt to balance the books. Speaking at the 360IT conference in London on Wednesday, Bill McCluggage also promised greater transparency over IT procurement, with tenders and contracts published online. Outlining a commitment to 'simplify, standardize and automate', McCluggage said the government would make it easier for open-source suppliers to compete for contracts, making the public sector less reliant on individual suppliers, or locked into proprietary systems."
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UK Goverment IT Chief Backs Open Source Suppliers

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lets hope this brings an end to central government giving out contracts to HP/EDS which over run and never work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nursie (632944)

      Yeah, I'll believe that when it happens. I'm sure there's a nice money-flow from the public purse to HP and then into the politician's campaign funds.

      Still this seems to be a positive move, unusual for politics.

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:51AM (#33673298) Journal

        Campaign funds in the UK are capped, and none of the candidates from the major parties has any trouble reaching this cap - they don't need contributions from HP, and all other gifts must be declared on the Register of Members' Interests. We don't have the same system of institutionalised bribery as the USA. The closest thing that we get is Ministers being offered directorships once they leave government in exchange for services rendered while there, but this only really works for bribing the people at the top. The other 400 or so MPs don't tend to get offered this kind of thing.

        The UK has a lot of small IT businesses, while HP has just reduced its UK workforce by around 2,000 and generally uses non-UK workers for these contracts. Employing British people to work on government projects makes financial sense for the government (they will be paying taxes and buying things in the UK), and is likely to be a vote winner.

      • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

        So why will the UK open source project succeed when the Switzerland(?) project failed? They tried to go open-source but now declared it didn't work out, and are going back to Windows 7 immediately
        .

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hognoxious (631665)

          Will it be exactly the same project - in terms of scope, deliverables, team, tools, methodology...?

          Unless it is I don't see why the premise leads to the conclusion at all.

          Applying your logic, since Leonardo da Vinci failed at heavier than air flight it's clear that Wright brothers faked it.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The Swiss project was pretty much doomed to fail. The IT director apparently didn't do a very good job on the human factors, scheduling was a disaster, and the media was actively working against it, though I'll try and resist the temptation to be cynical about whether anyone's pockets were being lined to encourage that.

          Britain, on the other hand, has a few success stories in open-source already - in fact, enough successes and failures that people pretty well know what to expect.

          Besides, after the London Sto

          • Several times I've heard "This PC came with Linux installed, format it and install Windows." I feel sad, but I really have a hard time making an argument for it. They want stuff that doesn't run on Linux, a familiar interface, the way they know how to do stuff, and that's it. Switching to another OS or application is hard, people only do it if there a strong reason. There have to be strong reasons to switch. Strong apps, that only run on the open source OS would attract people to it - but those get port
            • by jonwil (467024)

              Interoperabiliy is a big reason why people may not want Linux.

              Many people need to run Outlook for work emails. None of the solutions on Linux that I am aware of support all of the features of Outlook in a way thats 100% compatible with it (and doesnt require the Exchange admin to enable things on the server). Outlook Web Access may be disabled by the admin (and it only works 100% on IE unless it changed last time I looked) leaving the only option being to run Outlook talking directly to the company Exchange

        • by h00manist (800926)

          QUERY: - Why are there a hundred articles about Firefox, but nada about Mozilla/seaMonkey?.

          Maybe because someone allowed the proper standards, HTML, to take the backseat, and allowed the standards to get hijacked by the browsers, which should all render exactly the same. In fact the browser should not even be identifiable by the server.

  • clouds in a bottle (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    hinting at a possible move towards cloud-based solutions to escape licensing restrictions

    They should be careful not to let buzzwords govern their decision.

    A lot of what passes as "the cloud" involves removing control from the user and moving that control to a centrally-managed proprietary virtual host.

    If they happen to choose these sorts of "cloud" applications -- which are becoming increasingly common with the "SaaS" lock-em-in-and-rip-em-off crowd -- they're only going to multiply their licensing headaches.

    Their advisors should make it a point to distinguish between open (commodity) computing

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MikeFM (12491)

      Does it really matter where the server is and who technically owns it if you have no control over your data and how it's processed? I have a commercial ERP product I have to deal with that requires it run on a $30000+ AIX box, can only be backed up using their expensive partner company, requires keeping an expensive support contract, and completely sucks but there is no easy way to switch products because there is no way to export all the data and no way to fix the program because the vendor obviously doesn

      • haven't you heard of latency ? It is what makes things real slow .

        • by MikeFM (12491)

          Which is why you design things with latency taken into account. Pretty obvious. For most things it isn't a significant factor as usually it's a slight factor compared with processing time.

      • Openbravo might be worth a look, you might even find some support to help to switch.

        • by MikeFM (12491)

          I've pinged the commercial support for several of these open options and none of them have ever even bothered to respond. Pretty funny. It'd take a lot to switch though - user training could be horribly expensive and time consuming which is difficult with business so tight right now.

          • it might not be as hard as you think largely its a client frontend and a database holding all the data.
            If you can connect to your database using one of many tools dbvisualizer is one i use dbschema might be another
            Chances are the schema's would be fairly similar.

            I'm finding it a great learning experience getting into the details but one things for sure if you get the data in you can extract it too.

             

      • "Does it really matter where the server is and who technically owns it if you have no control over your data and how it's processed?"

        No, it doesn't. That's exactly why the parent post said "They should be careful not to let buzzwords govern their decision". If your are going for the change, try that it will be for the better insted of moving in order to stay at the same place.

    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:52AM (#33673308) Journal
      That depends on the cloud. For government IT, it might make sense to have a few large government-run datacentres that individual departments could buy time on, rather than having each project build its own separate infrastructure. The data and software would still be in the cloud, but the cloud would be in a bottle.
  • For the first time! (Score:5, Informative)

    by cappp (1822388) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @12:12AM (#33672092)
    My interest is somewhat moderated by a distinct feeling of deja'vu - almost as if the last administration made similar claims that apparantly went nowhere? Lets see [timesonline.co.uk]....

    The UK Government has announced that it will consider open-source software on an equal footing with proprietary commercial software when awarding multi-million-pound IT contracts.

    In a paper issued on Tuesday, Tom Watson, the Minister for Digital Engagement, said: “Open Source has been one of the most significant cultural developments in IT and beyond over the last two decades: it has shown that individuals, working together over the Internet, can create products that rival and sometimes beat those of giant corporations.”

    And the date on that? February 25, 2009.

    • by dangitman (862676) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @01:23AM (#33672354)

      The UK Government has announced that it will consider open-source software on an equal footing with proprietary commercial software when awarding multi-million-pound IT contracts.

      Why wouldn't you consider Open Source on equal footing with commercial software by default? It seems like a redundant statement.

      They very well might have been considering Open Source as an option since that announcement - the question is whether Open Source has ever actually made the the grade and been accepted as a better solution.

      • by julesh (229690) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:12AM (#33673134)

        Yes. The news here is (1) the reduction in multi-million-pound contracts in favour of more, smaller contracts. This means that the bidders themselves can be smaller (UK government tenders have, in the past, often had existing turnover requirements that mean most IT consultancies can't bid on them, leaving the field open to just a few large specialist companies, with most contracts apparently going to Capita), and (2) an apparent _preference_ for open-source solutions, rather than just (as the last government did) a requirement to evaluate open-source solutions as well as closed-source ones.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jellomizer (103300)

        Why wouldn't you consider Open Source on equal footing with commercial software by default?
        That is easy you need to think like a government.

        The one rule.
        1. It is not what you do right that gets you promoted. It is what you do wrong that gets you punished or fired.

        Let's say you spend millions on an infrastructure and training people to use an open source product that does something useful, but that project after a time is no longer maintained because the key developer(s) moved to new and better things. Sure

      • Having recently worked on setting up a government procurement framework, I can offer this.

        It is not uncommon to find that the procurement criteria or legal contracts you have to use explicitly assume that it is licenses to use the software which are being purchased. Since many open source licenses don't work that way, they end up getting excluded by default. This is not an evil plot to exclude open source software, it's just that this is the way software is generally purchased (or at least, it was in the

    • Different announcement. The open source bit is, basically, irrelevant. This is about the change in the bidding procedures to favour smaller contracts awarded to UK companies, rather than large contracts awarded to EDS (now owned by HP). Part of it is about the government effectively getting a 30% discount, because the people that they are paying will be paying that much back in taxes immediately.

      The current bidding procedures favour companies with lots of experience winning previous bids, so EDS (whic

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      that was the last government... all talk, useless in delivery.

      Unless it was suggested by their mates in big business, when legislation would be forced through PDQ.

  • Well if I was a UK citizen I'd be concerned about "cloud based solutions" but applaud the use of open source. The use of both in this particular context leads me to believe this is an excercise in buzzword compliance to mask poor strategy and decision making. These qualities in a government official? Who'd a thunk it?

    • by gringer (252588)

      a utility-maximising foray into language improvement optimisation techniques to obviate the degredation of A) core procedural goals and B)reconstruction of enlightened creative thought processes

      FTFY

  • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @12:49AM (#33672280)
    Usually courageous people like that get removed from office pretty quick. Also, his proprietary software opponents (vendors) will probably be very quick to pounce on any delays or missteps while systems transition to Open Source (while delays in proprietary software projects are quietly swept under the carpet due to 'commercial sensitivity'). I hope this guys pulls it off and levels the playing field - which should also save a lot of taxpayer pounds/dollars
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Flash back to a Yes Minister episode in a club.
      A Permanent Secretary/Cabinet Secretary meets with a nice young man from the USA.
      Thoughts about how good MS has been for the UK, how much money the UK has saved by using MS products are pondered.
      New sums are drawn on a napkin.
      The secretary shakes his head.
      Later calls are made to buy the rotten borough of Redmond-on-the-Wold.
      • by Linker3000 (626634) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @06:45AM (#33673528) Journal
        "Ah, but Minister, it works like this... Open source products cost zero to procure. Admittedly there are the associated installation and support costs, but that holds true for commercial products, so let's take the installation and support costs out of the equation. This leaves the cost of acquisition, which, as I said, for Open Source products is zero. Now, consider a commercial software alternative that would cost, say £15 million to acquire, yet we negotiate the price down to £10 million, so we can rightly say that we have saved the taxpayer £5 million - an not inconsiderable sum - but look at the Open Source alternative; it costs zero to acquire so there is zero that can be saved by negotiation - nothing - so what is better for the taxpayer: something on which we can save zero, or something for which we can negotiate a £5m discount? Basic maths and economics, Minister. "
        • by h00manist (800926)
          The proper calculation has to include the long-term benefits of the government owning their own source code. For example, there will be no forced upgrades. There will be less risk of orphaned products suddenly creating a situation where government data is inaccessible and useless. A national infrastructure of trained programmers to maintain this stuff is now possible, as there is source. There will be higher costs in programmers, that also has to be added.
          • by gtall (79522)

            You need to think like a Permanent Secretary. "Yes Minister, it is true that there will be no forced upgrades and less orphaned products risk. And the national infrastructure of trained programmers is something we want to think about. That would be a courageous stand to take, Minister. May I suggest a possibly less courageous stand though. With companies footing the expense, we can squeeze them and announce our savings to the voters in your district. There is the possibility that all those programmers now o

        • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Thank you, Sir Humphrey.

    • Usually courageous people like that get removed from office pretty quick.

      Unfortunately true. It's like Tommy Lee Jones says in Men in Black, "A person is smart. People are dumb..."

      If only there were more persons and less people...

    • by chrb (1083577)

      David Cameron has been talking about moving to open source and open standards for a few years now. [theregister.co.uk] Although that may not be what actually happens in the end, this man is unlikely to be removed for merely stating a desire to do what Cameron has already pledged to do.

    • by Tim C (15259)

      while delays in proprietary software projects are quietly swept under the carpet due to 'commercial sensitivity'

      Only by the vendor of that particular product/project - the media generally rip such things to pieces regardless of the vendor.

  • the government does follow this route, the real bonus would be better transparency. Procurement in general in the public sector is poor - those of us working in defence often seriously question the choices that are made, not to mention the massive overspends and delays.

    That said, the average person in the UK is more interested in what celebrities are doing than how their government spends their taxes.

  • It's not about open source or "cloud-based solutions". The cost of closed source licenses to government IT costs is a drop in the ocean when you're paying £1000/day for consultants. The biggest problem (and I witnessed this 1st hand) is that the people running government IT seem to lack focus on what they want to have delivered, so projects run on and on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by chrb (1083577)

      the people running government IT seem to lack focus on what they want to have delivered

      This happens in every area of the IT sector. I have seen million dollar projects run by corporations trundle on and on for years before eventual cancellation. Projects tend to only get canned when the manager of that project leaves the company, which often occurs at the same time as the company coming under severe financial pressure. As long as the company as a whole is profitable, individual projects are often given a lot of freedom.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by julesh (229690)

      The biggest problem (and I witnessed this 1st hand) is that the people running government IT seem to lack focus on what they want to have delivered, so projects run on and on.

      Yes, but part of the problem here is what the other half of this is addressing: the fact that most government IT contracts go to one or two large companies (I'm primarily thinking Capita here), who don't really have to compete on quality because there's a minimum turnover requirement in the tender that eliminates almost all of the pote

      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        hence this initiative - its not really about 'open source' at all, its more abotu splitting the huge IT contracts that usually go to one or two huge consultancies into many projects that can be won by small companies, that might happen to use open source.

        I'm thinking the current IT disaster by EADS. Its about time the governmnet woke up and realised all these huge IT projects are practically failures (especially by cost criteria) and actualyl did something about it. So 10/10 so far... we'll see how it works

        • by hcpxvi (773888)
          I'm thinking the current IT disaster by EADS
          I think you might mean EDS [hp.com] rather than EADS [eads.com].
          • by gbjbaanb (229885)

            nope, I am referring to FireControl, managed by EADS - the defence and security (plus other stuff) contractor.

            Now called Cassidian - a sure sign of things going wrong, once these types of companies rename themselves.

  • The UK govt has never been known for its open policies. Typically, it will hire a firm to build a system, and any incomers will have to buy in to that companies system. Which is nice if you're the gatekeeper. If this ever takes off, then it will be a great step forward for UK software. If the govt publishes the specification, and products are measured against that, then competition is more likely to succeed. We might even get a real software industry.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Think of how the GCHQ would have to work if the UK had a software industry beyond IBM, Honeywell and Microsoft.
      With all the MS products in use and never ending projects, all the mirror and data dumps are just so easy.
    • by chrb (1083577)

      If the govt publishes the specification, and products are measured against that, then competition is more likely to succeed.

      This is a great point. The government tenders that I have been involved in have been terribly biased towards an existing supplier. One tender evaluation actually had a grid of checkboxes that exactly matched the feature list of a major commercial project in the area. What I would like to see is a X-Prize bounty type arrangement, where the detailed specification for software is published, and the evaluation criteria, and whoever presents the best solution by some date gets the prize money. It would save bill

  • Wrong target (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @03:51AM (#33672836)

    Whether it's open source or closed source isn't the most important thing. Whether it's run locally or in the cloud doesn't make that much difference.

    What really matters is whether the data is readily accessible in a known format. If you can get your data in some sane way that is independent of your current software, then you are in control. If you cannot, then you are not in control.

    Of course, going OSS and going cloud-based each have their pros and cons as well, but IMHO they are secondary to controlling the data. For example, while OSS theoretically implies being able to access your data in a known format, I would still rather use a closed source solution with a cleaner known data format than an OSS solution where the code that manipulates the file format is difficult to understand and the format itself is more awkward.

    • by horza (87255)

      I would agree that having the data accessible in a known format is the primary target. If the government standardises on ODT for instance, then a council can choose between MS Word and Open Office. Or the council can just standardise on Open Office but individual workers could install their own copy of MS Word if they feel more comfortable with it. Or Abiword (and a hundred other word-processors) can add full support for ODT and suddenly a new OS alternative becomes available as a government standard. Same

    • "What really matters is whether the data is readily accessible in a known format."

      The problem is that for anything more complex than a tin whistle the letter of the specification is bound to have ambiguities and/or holes (no to talk about the case where the specification board has a vested interest on such ambiguities/holes) so having an unencumbered reference implementation becomes a must. Obviously, an open source implementation makes quite a good fit for an "unencumbered reference implementation". TCP/

  • by malkavian (9512) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @04:26AM (#33672966) Homepage
    This seems to come hot on the heels of the end of the Microsoft licensing deal with the NHS [channelregister.co.uk].
    One of the side effects of the "Age of Austerity" is that the Government really doesn't have the money to throw around anymore. Real savings are having to be made in the Public Sector.
    A simple choice is: Do we really get sufficient added value from having all the pretty functionality from the Microsoft Office suite, or do we really just need the basics (i.e. from Open Office, which is being used in Bristol City Council to a large extent) to create documents which can be stored. They may not look quite as slick, but they do the job nicely at a fraction of the cost (including support).
    As Open alternatives start to be used, companies are increasingly finding that the myth of "there are no readily available skillsets in them, unlike Microsoft applications" really is a myth, and that there are a good many highly skilled people available at prices largely in line with the Microsoft setup, but often with a broader skillset behind that. It just seems to be that this is filtering into the view of Government now..
    I'll be watching this one with interest; when used correctly, Open Source can be a huge cost saver. It's not the panacea for all ills, but when used as the right tool for the right job, everything works far better.
    • Not only that, but oft times with service contracts, a company is brought in to manage (arms-length stylee) the entire IT system in a local authority (Glasgow, as Scotlands largest, and the UK's fifth or sixth largest Council comes to mind at this point)
      The upshot of this is that from the enormous fees they charge, THEY have to pay licence fees for microsoft. Hardware is written off as a capital investment by the Council, but from my understanding, software isn't, it's seen as a service provided and manage

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @05:25AM (#33673180) Homepage

    The primary focus is on awarding contracts to small businesses rather than a few behemoths. Whether they use open source or not does not really appear to be a consideration. And "open standards" will in practice just means "hide the actual data inside a pile of useless XML cruft and pass it around via SOAP".

    By the way, most customers for this kind of software would rather eat their own heads than have to deal with multiple vendors for different parts of an integrated national system.

  • Ho hum. It seems like every three months or so we receive reports that the [insert name of favorite country, state, city, municipality, department or government agency here] pledges to 1) award more contracts to small business and 2) give preference to open source products. The end result is almost invariably the same: Large contracts go to large companies, allegedly because small companies can't prove they can "pull it off", and the usual closed source suspects get all the significant contracts based on s

  • UK Mindsets (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Never discount the UK mindset of stubborn resistance to change.

    There is a school, not a half mile from where I sit right now, who have 1 Windows box for the school IMS and every other machine is either Mac or Linux. All the desktops for the pupils to use are Linux and most staff use Linux laptops.
    They have had this system in place for at least the last 4 or 5 years.

    Are they held up as an example? No.
    Do other schools look to them? No.
    Did the previous Government cite them as a brilliant example of cost saving

  • pullease, not BT (Score:3, Interesting)

    by niks42 (768188) on Thursday September 23, 2010 @11:10AM (#33675832)
    As long as they don't engage BT to deliver the g-Cloud. More than 40% of all of the funding for the NHS national program is sinking down that particular black hole, and wouldn't want to see any more KBEs being created on the back of providing overpriced services very slowly, and very, very poorly supported.
  • ...but did anyone else initially read the guy's name as 'McLuggage'?

    If he had a warped sense of humour, wonder if he'd consider naming his kids Valise and Satchel? ;o)

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