Using open source software solutions helps public administrations to regain their power as customers, says Tariq Rashid of the IT Reform group at the UK Cabinet. It helps them to move from expensive unique IT to the commodity competing end of the market.
The UK government is requiring departments to effectively evaluate use open source solutions. Rashid, speaking at the Open Source, Open Standards Conference on 18 April and at the Open Gov Summit on 25 April, explains that open source helps improve competition in IT markets. The government wants to make its IT systems less monolithic and locked together, with its elements easier to interoperate with each other "For this, open standards are vital", Rashid argues.
At the Open Gov Summit Rashid provided some context of the government's focus on open source opportunities. According to Public Technology, a technology news site, Rashid wants public administrations to change their approach of the IT market. He suggests that they've previously put too much effort into trying to extract discounts from the market, asking suppliers for discounts in return for large volumes of licenses. He suggests this isn't an optimal commercial position. Instead, he recommends public bodies should aim to drive good supplier behaviour through competition, by ensuring the customer has genuine choice. Too often, he suggests, commercial negotiations are not negotiations but requests for a discount where the supplier knows the customer has little choice but to continue renewing licenses for an embedded technology.
The week before, at the Open Standards Conference, Rashid explained that public administrations should avoid 'any kind of lock-in to vendors or technology', according to Steve Parks of IT services provider Wunderkraut. On the company's blog, Park describes Rashid, explaining that over time technology moves from being special and expensive to becoming more widely used and standard. "Ultimately, good technology becomes commodity, with many suppliers and low prices."
At both conferences, Rashid reassured public administrations that open source is nothing to be afraid of and that "serious organisations are using it seriously."
In October 2011 the UK government published its Government ICT strategy. The strategy aims to level the playing field foropen source; one of the practical tools made available with the strategy is an Open Source Procurement Toolkit.