Government puts open source at the heart of its new IT strategy

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Government puts open source at the heart of its new IT strategy

Kathleen Hall

The government has launched its much-anticipated new IT strategy, with open source highlighted as a key part of its plans, and a promise that the coalition is "determined to do things better."

"We want government ICT to be open. Open to the people and organisations that use our services. And open to any provider, regardless of size," said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

The ICT strategy report put open source as a purchasing priority,

"Where appropriate, the government will procure open source solutions," it said. "When used in conjunction with compulsory open standards, open source presents significant opportunities for the design and delivery of interoperable solutions."

As part of the government strategy it will push ahead with a move to cloud computing, which will include large-scale datacentre, network, software and asset consolidation. A cloud computing strategy will be published in the next six months to detail the transition of services, building on the work done on the G-Cloud initiative launched by the Labour administration.

An online government applications store, to enable the reuse of business applications and components across the public sector, will also be created in the next 12 to 24 months. And the private sector is to deliver the first instances of public sector networks in the next six to 12 months.

The government reaffirmed its intention to move away from large IT projects worth more than £100m, although it did not rule out such projects entirely. The "oligopoly" of large suppliers that monopolise IT will also be broken by streamlining procurement and opening up contracts to SMEs, it says.

"Many of these actions represent not just technological change, but changes to the operating culture of government; strong leadership within and across all departments will be required to drive this strategy forward," said the report.

Maude says the government's bad reputation for ICT is largely unjustified. "It is not obvious that the record of government is significantly worse than that of other big organisations," he said.

"Nonetheless there have been significant failings. The coalition government is determined to do things better."

The strategy outlined a series of major problems, many of which will be recognisable to people working on government IT, including the complexity of projects, with too little attention given to their implementation at senior levels; a lack of system interoperability; poor infrastructure integration; too many datacentres; and lengthy procurement timescales.

To combat these issues, the government is committing to:

• Introduce new central controls to ensure greater consistency and integration;

• Take powers to remove excess capacity;

• Create a level playing field for open source software;

• Greatly streamline procurement and specify by outcomes rather than inputs;

• Create a presumption against projects having a lifetime value of more than £100m;

• Impose compulsory open standards, starting with interoperability and security;

• Create a comprehensive asset register;

• Create a cross-public sector Applications Store;

• Expect senior responsible owners to stay in post until an appropriate break point in project/programme life; and

• Encourage department boards to hold ministers and senior officials to account on a regular basis for the progress of IT projects and programmes.

Read the full Government ICT Strategy document here.


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