Why the government needs to renew its public commitment to open source software

The government needs to fully embrace open source as part of a future-proof IT strategy

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Open source software will propel the public sector into the 21st century

The government has played an important role as champion of open source in the public sector and this has been essential to the great progress that has been made to date. As the new government lays out its strategy, it should publicly reaffirm its commitment to open source software. This will add impetus to those in the public sector considering open source if the government acknowledges its value in relation to its agile vision.

There are three indisputable reasons why the government should play such an integral role in the open source software debate.

First, open source is liberating the public sector from traditional IT contracts. Led by Francis Maude, the government made significant steps to introduce open source software standards. This has been one of the big successes of the last Parliament because it has begun to break up the deeply rooted and overly complex licensing arrangements with traditional commercial vendors. No matter how hard such vendors fight, central government has made its intentions clear.

> See also: The real road to democracy: how open source is sparking a revolution in enterprise 

Second, open source software meets the public sector’s budget challenges head on. We all know that further cuts are coming and for many departments and local authorities these will be painful discussions. It is commercial common sense to consider open source software as part of the alternative to existing IT solutions.

At 80 – 90% less cost versus traditional relational databases, open source based databases give public sector IT leaders a very positive cost benefit analysis. This goes some way to address lingering concern that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for open source software is just as high as traditional commercial software.

IDC has calculated that the average IT budget is only going to grow by 2 – 3%, whereas IT workloads could increase by as much as 30%. Add to this the significant cuts the public sector face and it is no longer a viable argument that traditional on premise software is the way forward. Open source software has continued to advance its functionality for the enterprise environment while continuing to represent significant cost savings.

In addition, migrating away from existing vendors is not as difficult as it once was. Analysts have estimated that 80% of today’s existing implementations could be transitioned to open source and easily supported with open source functionality.

Certainly, traditional commercial vendors have done a good job creating fear, uncertainty and doubt on the implementation of open source, but frankly this argument does not stand up to scrutiny. Indeed in Gartner’s recent analysis of the open source database market, it has strongly recommended enterprises consider OSDBMS as 'a standard infrastructure choice for a large majority of new enterprise applications.' I believe this recommendation can equally apply in the public sector.

The third and final, and most positive, argument in favour of open source software is its affinity with the government’s agile strategy. The open source community welcomes this strategy because it reflects our culture, approach and mindset.

> See also: 4 reasons why people should stop associating open source with a lack of security

Open source software was born out of a desire to share, collaborate and constantly improve software without the restrictions of perpetual licensing structures and huge maintenance bills. Open source coders are in essence born agile and understand the challenges and benefits of implementing such an approach.

As senior government and civil service figures have recognised, the move to an agile approach and the vision of government-as-a-service must clear some cultural hurdles, but to be successful it requires a partner who actually understands what agile means and has the inherent flexibility to overcome hurdles. That partner is the open source community. The government needs to renew its public support for open source software as the foundation of its future IT strategy.

Sourced from Jeannot Bos, Director, EnterpriseDB