Open source solutions are "massively cost-effective", says Mark Dearnley, the Chief Digital & Information Officer at the UK's tax authority, HMRC. The government department is set to increasingly use such this type of software, he announced at the 'Open Source & Open Standards' conference in London, on 3 April. "Open source is definitively going to change our future."
Dearnley wants to use open source to improve IT and to reduce costs. There is an estimated 35 million pounds of taxes that are not collected annually, providing a clear business case to improve the IT systems. HMRC also needs to reduce its costs by 22 per cent over the next 4 years, he said.
The tax authority will be contributing to open source projects, Dearnley announced in London. Enhancements to free and open source projects will be contributed back to the community and the department will share its solutions with other public administrations. HMRC will also be working with researchers and academia, the CIO announced. One example is Warwick University's dissertations on speech analytics. "We are eager to hear from other organisations who might have similar needs; together we can work out which components would be good to extract and share."
Tempering expectations, he said that the complexity of HMRC's technology estate prevents the agency from exclusively relying on open source. "It will be a key part of our future, but not the only answer." Moving from proprietary to open source requires people to change, including technical, commercial and those involved in operations. "It is rarely about the software, and all about how you use it. It is a mindset."
The tax authorities provide a massive opportunity for open source, Dearnley predicts. At the moment, only 3 per cent of all of the servers used by the HMRC are running Linux. "We also have some 800 enterprise applications and 95 per cent of our software is proprietary, so we have some way to go."
A stack of open source
At the conference, the CIO listed 42 open source solutions already in use at the tax authority. Examples include the web browsers Apache and Nginx, database systems Mongo DB, MySQL and Postgres, and programming languages Clojure, Groovy, Ruby and Java. HMRC also uses Suse Linux, the LibreOffice office suite and Apache Maven, for software development project management.
The government agency is especially interested in OpenStack, an open source cloud computing solution. He expects HMRC to be using both private and public clouds. And according to Dearnley, free and open source are providing the leading solutions for analytics. Pointing to the Hadoop storage framework, he commented: "In many areas, open source is catching up to proprietary solutions, but here it is leading."
He complimented open source for its role in development of applications supporting XBRL (eXtensible Business Reporting Language). HMRC requires companies to file their Online Corporation Tax return using XBRL/iXBRL, Dearnley added. "The open source market has given companies greater choice in this space and has helped HMRC in the development of its future web services."