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Readdressing the Public Sector’s Sourcing Strategy

by Jim Shaw, General Manager Europe, Acquia

With budget cuts looming and spending reduction programmes biting hard into the public sector, it’s easy to see why IT managers are seeking alternative approaches to traditional procurement programmes. These measurers, whilst undoubtedly challenging, do provide a new opportunity for department heads to consider fresh avenues and solutions for technology procurement, in an effort to deliver more with less for the hard-pressed taxpayer.

It is encouraging to see that the Government is open to new ideas around technology innovation; an example of this can be seen in the launch of the open source toolkit, which helps decision-makers evaluate the effectiveness of adopting open source projects. This landmark launch dispels the unfounded myths around open source projects being unsafe, firmly cementing its reputation as a reliable and more importantly cost effective alternative to proprietary software.

The launch of the toolkit should inspire IT leaders to work with the open source community to provide innovative new solutions to cut costs and improve citizen services online. Part of this process will be utilising the newly created Open Solutions online forum, a model allowing the discussion and evaluation of adopting open source software for a project.

In many ways, the UK is still playing catch up with the US in terms of open source adoption. Across the other side of the pond, open source communities such as Drupal power a large amount of Government sites, safely and securely as the approved and standardised platform. This isn’t simply a case of value for money, the extensive community constantly deliver the latest updates and patches, meaning the sites remain optimised with the latest innovations on an on-going basis.

But the slow start in UK open source adoption does not only rest with the Government’s procurement teams, a responsibility lies with open source communities and vendors to make their case against traditional proprietary vendors to win the contract bid. All too often open source projects are overlooked because they lack the necessary sales, marketing and consultancy ecosystems that traditional enterprise software companies have as standard. In this context, it is critical that open source offerings are packaged up with the necessary expertise to ensure the technology is viewed as a viable and credible alternative. I’m a firm believer that open source projects should win on merit, and the new toolkit allows a level playing field for providers to put their offering forward.

With the Government’s overarching big society agenda promoting a collaborative approach to problem solving, there has never been a better time for open source communities to make their case. These developer communities strive for excellence through collaborative thinking and partnerships. What’s more, open source offerings provide a licence-free opportunity for unprecedented cost savings to the bottom line.

The UK public sector is clearly willing to look closer at open source, but it’s also crucial that providers match these expectations with a solid, effective ecosystem to increase confidence in their offerings. With a newly created level playing field, and a unique and innovative offering, there has never been a better time for open source communities and vendors to take up the public sector challenge.

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