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UK government takes positive steps to encourage open source adoptionMatthew Aslett, February 25, 2009 @ 4:54 am ET
The UK government has updated its policy on open source software, taking a more positive stance on encouraging the use of open source software for government IT systems and introducing an action plan that will ensure the theory is put into practice.
Just last month I criticised the Labour government for failing to act on its own research that showed open source could save the UK Government at least £600m per year, as well as the Conservative party for using open source to score points against the Labour party.
At first glance the new policy appears to be a progressive step that will actually provide positive action on leveling the playing field for the assessment of open source software, rather than paying lip service to it.
The new policy is contained within the Open Source, Open Standards and Re–Use: Government Action Plan, launched by Minister for Digital Engagement, Tom Watson, and is both more expansive and more detailed than previous versions.
The 2004 policy states:
• UK Government will consider OSS solutions alongside proprietary ones in IT procurements. Contracts will be awarded on a value for money basis.
• UK Government will only use products for interoperability that support open standards and specifications in all future IT developments.
• UK Government will seek to avoid lock-in to proprietary IT products and services.
• UK Government will consider obtaining full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) software it procures wherever this achieves best value for money.
• Publicly funded R&D projects which aim to produce software outputs shall specify a proposed software exploitation route at the start of the project. At the completion of the project, the software shall be exploited either commercially or within an academic community or as OSS.
Whereas the 2009 policy states:
Open Source Software
1. The Government will actively and fairly consider open source solutions alongside proprietary ones in making procurement decisions,
2. Procurement decisions will be made on the basis on the best value for money solution to the business requirement, taking account of total lifetime cost of ownership of the solution, including exit and transition costs, after ensuring that solutions fulfil minimum and essential capability, security, scalability, transferability, support and manageability requirements.
3. The Government will expect those putting forward IT solutions to develop where necessary a suitable mix of open source and proprietary products to ensure that the best possible overall solution can be considered.
4. Where there is no significant overall cost difference between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility.
Non–Open Source Software
5. The Government will, wherever possible, avoid becoming locked in to proprietary software. In particular it will take exit, rebid and rebuild costs into account in procurement decisions and will require those proposing proprietary software to specify how exit would be achieved.
6. Where non open source products need to be purchased, Government will expect licences to be available for all public sector use and for licences already purchased to be transferable within the public sector without further cost or limitation. The Government will where appropriate seek pan-government agreements with software suppliers which ensure that government is treated as a single entity for the purposes of volume discounts and transferability of licences.
7. The Government will use open standards in its procurement specifications and require solutions to comply with open standards. The Government will support the development of open standards and specifications.
8. The Government will look to secure full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of commercial off the shelf products it procures, so as to enable straightforward re-use elsewhere in the public sector. Where appropriate, general purpose software developed for government will be released on an open source basis.
9. Where the public sector already owns a system, design or architecture the Government will expect it to be reused and that commercial arrangements will recognise this. Where new development is proposed, suppliers will be required to warrant that they have not developed or produced something comparable, in whole or in part, for the public sector in the past, or where they have, to show how this is reflected in reduced costs, risks and timescale.
10. When suppliers are proposing a third party product there should be full price transparency. If there is a pan–Government agreement there should be the option to source through this where doing so would maximise overall public sector value. The Government will expect to be charged only the cost the supplier incurs unless the supplier can clearly and transparently provide evidence of the additional value created.
If anyone is wondering why the UK government should want to take affirmative action on open source, and I’m sure some people are, the foreword by Tom Watson states:
1. We want to ensure that we continue to use the best possible solutions for public services at the best value for money; and that we pay a fair price for what we have to buy.
2. We want to share and re-use what the taxpayer has already purchased across the public sector – not just to avoid paying twice, but to reduce risks and to drive common, joined up solutions to the common needs of government.
3. We want to encourage innovation and innovators – inside Government by encouraging open source thinking, and outside Government by helping to develop a vibrant market.
4. We want to give leadership to the IT industry and to the wider economy to benefit from the information we generate and the software we develop in Government
Mainstream reaction to the new policy has been slow to emerge, although the following are worth a look:
For wider reaction, the government has set up a public page to track the response to the new policy and action plan.
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