The Home Office saved £10m by running a key messaging infrastructure on open source software.
The system, which is related to international border control, previously cost £12m over five years, a figure that reduced to £2m over the same period.
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“We moved from a traditional expensive product to something based on JBoss,” said Home Office lead IT architect Tariq Rashid, who was unable to give any more details about the project for security reasons. Another department saved £400m by moving to open source software, he said.
Speaking at the Open Government Summit in London, Rashid said: “There’s a fear in government that by using open source we will expose ourselves and have to open up our systems, which is not the case.”
Rashid said the reasons why uptake is so low in the UK government include: a lack of open architecture which has precluded choice; cultural issues; a lack of open source skills; and myths around security. The procurement process is also a big issue, he said: “I’m particularly incensed about the mix of suppliers in government. Our European colleagues have much [greater] numbers [of suppliers] vying for business.”
Open source is widely used in the private sector and by governments such as Sweden, Germany and France. “It’s not a toy, the best open source has been around for a decade,” he said, adding that about 80% of websites use open source, as does NASA.
“Over the last year we’ve started to point our fingers less at the market and more at ourselves. As customers you get what you deserve," said Rashid.
But central spending controls in the Cabinet Office are pushing open source more onto the agenda: “The Home Office has pushed back on projects not using open source."
Using spot checks as a means of encouraging departments to incorporate open source in their IT plans was another method being considered, he said.
Open source allows greater re-use in government because of the lack of licence restrictions, a point which resonates with the government’s IT strategy. “It also allows flexibility and being able to change the code if you want to. It allows you to experiment and play,” he said.
“Our objective is to best exploit the opportunities out there. At the moment we are missing out on opportunities.”
Rashid praised government IT security authority CESG’s recent announcement that open source was no more or less secure than proprietary software. “But a number of colleagues are not yet on the same page with that,” he added.
Rashid said he wasn’t able to comment on the alignment of open standards and open source, due to the ongoing consultation on open standards, which will end on 4 June.