Computacenter blamed in public sector open source row

Systems integrator (SI) Computacenter has taken fire in a growingbust-up over open source software at Bristol City Council, which MPs have been told proves the government's open source ICT strategy isunworkable, writes Mark Ballard. In a letter to MPs sitting on the Public Administration Select Comm

Systems integrator (SI) Computacenter has taken fire in a growing bust-up over open source software at Bristol City Council, which MPs have been told proves the government's open source ICT strategy is unworkable, writes Mark Ballard.

In a letter to MPs sitting on the Public Administration Select Committee, open source supplier Sirius Corporation said Bristol City Council had ditched its latest effort on the advice of its supplier Computacenter.

Mark Taylor, CEO at Sirius, accused Computacenter of skewing an open source proof-of-concept pilot in favour of vendor partner Microsoft.

Taylor told MPs this showed how the UK's "oligopoly" of systems integrators ensured Cabinet Office open source policy "cannot and will not work".

Computacenter and Sirius bid for the Bristol deal after the Council Cabinet voted to adopt an open source computing infrastructure last September, said the letter.

However Sirius claims it was thrown off the project after the two disagreed over its viabililty.

"My opinion is that the large systems integrators would not survive a transition to open source in the public sector, for the simple reason that the savings would be enormous," Taylor told our sister publication ComputerWeekly.com.

"The loss to their revenue would be massive. Their survival depends on there being no successful open source trials," he claimed.

A Computacenter spokesman said Taylor's statement was "factually incorrect and potentially libellous".

Computacenter client director Matt Kenny said: "If it's right for the council then we'll use open source software, if it's not then we won't."

Computacenter later claimed the pilot had not been concluded. "Our commitment to Bristol City Council includes maximising the use of open source if it meets their defined business requirements," said Computacenter.

In another written statement Bristol City Council backed up Computacenter's position, saying it was "unfortunate" that Sirius felt it could no longer support the project.

"But we look forward to continuing to work with other open source partners in the future," it added.

Taylor's letter cited testimony from Martin Rice, managing director of IT SME Erudine, given to a Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) hearing into government IT failures.

Rice said large SIs would court small suppliers to make their bids for large contracts look attractive, only to walk away when they had won the business.

More SMEs testified in secret to the PASC inquiry in May, saying they were scared that their complaints about the SIs - said to control 80% of the UK's £19bn-a-year public sector ICT market - would lead to their exclusion from government contracts.

Bristol local authority had, on advice supplied by Sirius in May 2010, sought to develop an ICT infrastructure incorporating ideas central to Conservative pre-election technology policy, which had also been developed with contributions from Taylor.

On entering the coalition last year, the Tories recommended breaking SIs' so-called "oligopoly" and renewing government commitment to open source software.

The Cabinet Office became so exasperated with SIs ignoring its requests for government customers to be given open source options that it has taken steps to police them.

MicroScope understands the Cabinet Office has begun monitoring technology refresh cycles in central government departments, so it can catch suppliers on the hop.

Taylor's letter to MPs alleged that last September, Bristol City Council asked its supplier at the time, Capgemini, to complete an open source software stack pilot by November, but that Capgemini ignored the request.

Capgemini was unavailable for comment.

The council's strategy infamously involved abandoning a five-year attempt to use open source software on its 7,000 desktops, but committed to open source as a means of achieving its 'Digital City' economic regeneration plan.

The Cabinet Office approved a strategy saying Microsoft was too powerful to make alternatives feasible for desktops, but it would at least try to honour government policy by incorporating open source into the underlying infrastructure.

A version of this story originally appeared on ComputerWeekly.com

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