In celebration of Chinese New Year, Amanda Brock, CEO of OpenUK, provides her 2022 predictions for open source technologies in the UK
In the Chinese calendar, 2021 was the year of the Metal Ox. Coincidentally we saw open source grow in importance across the UK public sector, plowing a furrow that will continue to develop in 2022. The European Commission’s Open Source Study found that €1 billion was invested in open source software in Europe in 2018, which brought about a positive impact on the European economy of between €65 and €95 billion. OpenUK‘s first “State of Open Report” evolved the Commission thinking, to demonstrate open source software contributing up to £46.5 billion per annum to UK GDP. That’s more than 20% of the UK digital economy, according to Tech Nation. I suspect the reality is much higher.
Open Source is the submarine powering the digital economy by stealth.
Open source software in 2022
Developing this now ubiquitous software is something at which the UK is number one in Europe. One of the world’s biggest contributors to open source software, the UK is the fifth largest of the global contributors to cloud native, and third in the list of contributors to NASA’s open source software-powered Linux helicopter, Ingenuity, sending data from Mars to Earth via open source Apache Kafka. With the UK’s relatively diminutive population compared to those ahead of us in the contribution and developer league tables, the UK’s per capita contribution is massive.
Despite this status as a centre of excellence in open source, it has gone largely unnoticed since the early 2010’s, when Francis Maude and his Cabinet Office team forged GDS. Following that model, the UK’s world leading policies have been replicated across the globe.
A decade later, we see a shift to open source as the dominant force in software development. Increasingly it forms the basis of DevOps, IT infrastructure and cloud. The UK’s skills in this field are a largely uncelebrated strength. The shift to cloud, and in particular interoperable cloud native software including Kubernetes, has seen real leadership from the UK, with many key figures in this movement running UK companies. As one engineer said to me, the UK has always produced great engineers and their strength is infrastructure. 2022 is their time to shine and a time for others to develop these skills.
We have seen digitalisation at scale across business and increasingly in the public sector. The first report from Laura Sandys’ Energy Digitalisation Task Force recommended an open first approach. The NHS England Data Strategy did the same in July, calling out open source software as its default. I expect to see a mass adoption of open source software in 2022 to form a solid backbone to the UK public sector infrastructure.
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Open approaches to data in 2022
Open banking regulations were adopted to liberate the payments market, open up opportunities for new market entrants and provide better experiences and conditions for banking customers. Now, other markets are planning to follow that model. Data is being opened up across a variety of sectors that will follow this exemplar, starting with the energy and utility markets.
The focus on sustainability accentuated by COP26 will support this shift. Europe’s Gaia-X is building a federated data model, and the UK’s IcebreakerOne will play its part in this by influencing energy data. Open data models require a balance between digital and data sovereignty to ensure that collaboration delivers appropriate results, whilst simultaneously respecting citizen privacy. Collaboration will be critical.
COP26 provided an opportunity to focus minds on open technology’s place in building sustainable digital infrastructure through open source software, open hardware and open data. As Lord Maude flagged in his keynote at the Open Technology for Sustainability Day, not only does technology need by default to be open to be sustainable, but open technology’s values facilitate collaboration and innovation. They come into their own when we measure value against sustainability and societal goals in addition to economic impact.
Security and good practices
Government has rightly never been more concerned about bad actors and the security of its “digital plumbing”. Understanding risk shifts the focus to security and Biden’s Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity from May 2021 requires “Software Bills of Materials” or SBOMs The SBOM structure will rapidly become the norm. SPDX and Open Chain are already in place as ISO Standards and available to facilitate SBOMs, supporting licence compliance for open source and offering appropriate standard governance. I expect this will result in the creation of a series of “Open Source Program Offices,” (whether directly called OSPO’s or otherwise) as the wheelhouse of good governance.
I wonder whether proprietary code could ever match the level of governance and provenance that a decade of microscopic analysis has necessitated for open source?
How open source can lend itself towards database security
Measuring the values of open in 2022
Open source brings economic savings, that’s true, but beyond this it supports societal values including collaboration, skills development and improved and diverse innovation.
The UK Government’s digital focus in 2022 will be on “Funding, People and Ideas,” according to Digital Minister, Chris Philp. The values of open source align directly with this ambition.
Talent will be actively nurtured, and the UK financial sector will be tasked with a significant increase in its investment in digital start-ups through UK pension funds. The current 12% level will be driven towards the 65% US equivalent pension. This increase in investment should create a larger pot for all, helping to support businesses in establishing their operations and building sustainable models that take advantage of circular economy models, rather than than going for all-out perpetual growth.
With a greater focus on scaling UK digital businesses, some of the Brexit pain will be alleviated with a new fast track visa route launching in March or April, offered to organisations demonstrating 20% financial or people growth over the last three years. Much of this investment will inevitably be in businesses being built on open technologies with modern business and revenue models. Business development needs rapid skills development and this people focus will require hands on, more practical re-skilling and apprenticeship type training in open source software.
Looking into the year ahead, the Chinese calendar year for 2022, is the Year of the Tiger. The Chinese Minstry for Industry and Information Technology has just published a report saying “software defines the world of the future, open source determines the future of software.” I foresee 2022 as the year of the Open Source Tiger in the UK.