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Zero cost for software licences breaks UK procurement spreadsheets

Barriers to acquisition

Published on: 20/11/2019 News Archived

Procurement officers working for public services in the UK need to adapt their acquisition models, says OpenUK, an open source industry association.

Current contract cost models are a serious barrier to acquiring free and open source software solutions. Only experienced procurement officers know how to steer around the complexities to focus on professional software services. Procurement is out of touch with modern IT, OpenUK suggests, since: “Open source is the standard for modern digital projects.”

A recent example of lack of readiness for open source is the new procurement framework for the country’s healthcare system (NHS), which was launched in June. One of the members of OpenUK, trying to fill in documents for a software bid, struggled to present the project financials: “The framework contract is geared around pricing based on licence cost per user,” says Stuart Mackintosh, OpenUK chairman, “and this hinders providers of open source solutions.”

In a second case, an NHS hospital is looking to replace its current proprietary enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with the open source version of Odoo ERP, says the OpenUK chairman. Here, buyers perceive open source procurement as a risk since the acquisition process is not aligned with the supply model for open source.

Professional services

This is a pity, Mackintosh says, as the open source licence attracts no cost and is perpetual. This suits the client perfectly, he adds: “It only needs to purchase professional services to make sure that the software is suitable and operationally effective.”

Conversely, purchasing proprietary licences for closed software is not in the best interest of the customer, he says.

“In this case, our member is seeking support from Crown Commercial Services to assist the procurement officers at the NHS hospital to find an effective workaround or suitable framework,” the OpenUK chairman says, “but the government really should improve its model and educate procurers on when open source is appropriate, and how to acquire the software and services.”

Custodian model

OpenUK urges the government to allow public services to focus on the costs of service level agreements, development, implementation and data migration[, as well as software licences]. Cost calculation models should also take into account the overall economic impact, including the benefits of sharing and reuse of software by other public sector departments.

“Once it is tailored for one NHS hospital, an open source solutions can be implemented for free by all the others,” the OpenUK chairman says. Currently, such forward savings are not part of any cost model used by UK public services. “Dealing with zero costs for reusable software should not be difficult – it should be rewarded,” he says.

The industry association advocates an open approach for the NHS, and published a whitepaper on the subject in 2018.

OSOR reached out to the London Procurement Partnership responsible for the NHS notice and to NHS Digital, contacting them by phone, email and direct messages via social media, and awaits their responses.

More information:

OpenUK whitepaper ‘An Open Digital Approachfor the NHS’ (2018 PDF)