Posts Tagged ‘procurement’

A level playing field for open source?

May 28, 2008

A few weeks ago I mentioned a conference on the issues surrounding the procurement of open source software which was being hosted at the University of Oxford’s OSSWatch service. I was there to write a report on the main events of the day so I thought you might be interested to know that it’s just been published.

For those of you who just want the edited highlights, the key question was whether or not open source software solutions get a fair shout when procurement managers (particularly in the public sector) start to think about bringing in new systems or upgrading existing systems (they don’t!).

For me, the most thought provoking comment came from Boris Devouge, from RedHat, who argued that the most important question anyone should be asking about a new system is whether it supports open standards or not.

Boris said: ‘”One of the very first questions when using public money should be: ‘Are you using open standards? Is my data safe?’ You need to know that [with] the solution you are advocating now, [that] in ten years’ time it’s not going to cost forty times as much to migrate the data somewhere”.

By this means he means that if you’re bringing in new systems you need to make sure that you will be able to take your data out and ‘migrate’ it to a new system (if you so wish) easily and with minimal cost. This is not necessarily about open source software per se. You can have closed source software that adheres to open standards for data exchange and you can have standards that describe themselves as open when they’re not really very open at all. If it sounds confusing, don’t worry. The important thing is to focus on the data and how easily you can transfer it to other systems. I think this is going to be one of the big issues over the next few years, as ordinary people start to feel the effects of being ‘locked in’ to things like the everyday Web services they use.

Why is the UK so bad at using open source software?

March 19, 2008

As the economy suffers, and tax revenues start to fall, bearing down on spending within the public sector is becoming increasingly important. As just one example, the UK Government is looking for half a billion pounds of savings in the education sector’s total procurement costs. One would’ve thought, then, that open source software solutions such as Linux and OpenOffice, which have no licence fees associated with them, would be seeing an increase in take up.

Apparently not. At the Risk Management in Open Source Procurement conference in Oxford yesterday, speaker after speaker gave examples of other European countries with large-scale, public sector, open source procurement strategies. Notable examples that were mentioned included a 120,000 Linux-based desktop installment in schools across Macedonia and the outfitting of the French Parliament with open source-based desktop systems. But in the UK, we’re still lagging behind.

There are several reasons for this, but one of the most important is the number of barriers present in the process of procurement. It seems that open source software suppliers are not being offered a level playing field when it comes the bureaucratic procedures and check-lists involved in making procurement decisions within public sector bodies. A high profile example involves Becta, the school’s technology agency, and its recent decision not to include the popular open source package Moodle as a potential e-learning platform.

The good news is that, judging from the level of interest at the conference it seems there is growing willingness on the part of the public sector to work on this, alongside moves amongst open source developers to work together through consortia.

If this is something you’re interested in, watch this space. I’ve been commissioned to write up the main findings of the conference (in an interesting way!) so there will be more coming out on this in a few weeks’ time.