UK government re-thinks open source

The UK government seems to be re-thinking its policy of not investing in any software projects.

Soon after being elected, the Tory/LibDem coalition decided that it could save a bit of cash by not having any expensive computer projects. Even upgrading from Internet Exploder 6 was considered too costly.

Now the UK government’s deputy Chief Information Officer has outlined plans to hand public sector IT contracts over to small businesses and suppliers of open-source and cloud-based networks.

Speaking at the 360IT conference in London on Wednesday, Bill McCluggage said that there would be much greater transparency over IT procurement. Tenders and contracts would be published online, he said.

According to ZDNet McCluggage said the administration’s policy is to promote small business procurement so that a quarter of government contracts should be awarded to SMEs.

The move can be seen as a smack on the nose with a rolled up newspaper to the last government, and the Tory government before it, which liked to give lucrative computer contracts to large system integrators.

IT projects across all departments were being reassessed in a bid to cut the bill for central government IT, which currently stands at more than £7 billion.

While contracts with a price tag of less than £50 million will remain largely unaffected, larger schemes would be broken up into smaller projects worth no more than £100 million each.

This all sounds good, but since all new IT projects costing more than £1 million are still on hold it all seems academic.

McCluggage said that when the government does start buying IT contracts again, it would be easier for open-source suppliers to compete for contracts, making the public sector less reliant on individual suppliers, or locked into proprietary systems.

He hinted that there might be a move towards cloud-based solutions to escape licensing restrictions.

McLuggage was concerned that the government had 600,000 desktop licences for one desktop productivity tool and wanted to resize government to re-use assets which it already had without the lock-in of new licences.