Government Changes IT Procurement Process To Boost Open Source

The Government has promised to train more of its technology staff to use open source software in a bid to increase the use of open source in the public sector. It will also include in contracts the stipulation that software can be re-used by other departments.

The promises form part of an action plan for open source software and open standards in Government produced by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council, the body which advises the Government on its own IT.

"The world of technology has moved on hugely since we last set out our thinking on open source, which is why it was so important to update our policy," said Tom Watson, minister for digital engagement at the Cabinet Office. "Open source products are more competitive and have become easier to include in business, and major players in the IT industry now support the use of open standards."

The CIO Council said that training for Government workers would be provided to enable fairer comparisons between open source and proprietary software.

"The CIO Council and the [Office of Government Commerce (OGC)], working with industry and drawing on best practice from other countries, will institute a programme of education and capability-building for the Government IT and procurement professions on the skills needed to evaluate and make the best use of open source solutions," it said.

"The aim will be to raise the level of awareness, skills and confidence in the professions in the different licensing, support, commercial and cost models associated with open source solutions," said the CIO Council's proposals.

It also said that it would encourage Government to make better use of the software that it did acquire.

"Government purchasers will use a standard OGC-approved OJEU [Official Journal of the European Communities] clause to make clear that solutions are purchased on the basis that they may be re-used elsewhere in the public sector," said the CIO Council's plan. "The OGC Standard Contract Clauses will contain a clause to ensure that the government secures full rights to bespoke software code or customisations of commercial off the shelf products it procures, and that it is clear that these rights cover re-use anywhere else in the public sector and the ability to release the code on an open-source basis."

"Where appropriate, general purpose software developed by or for government will be released on an open source basis," it said.

Watson said that the Government hoped that the plan would help it to save money. "By levelling the playing field and allowing open source to be as competitive as possible we can ensure that taxpayers get maximum value for money from Government IT, something that is more important than ever during the worldwide financial climate," he said.

The plan is designed to ensure that open source projects are considered equally with proprietary ones. In its buying process the Government will always state that it will consider open source software based on the total cost of ownership over the technology's lifetime, the CIO Council said.

Open source software is available for users to change or adapt and is often free, though companies exist who will charge fees to install, configure and service the technology. Users still need a licence to use open source software, and those licences usually stipulate that the software can be passed on or re-used along with any changes that have been made.