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Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC "Can Whitehall open up to open source?"

From: Tom Chance
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] BBC "Can Whitehall open up to open source?"
Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2011 12:50:26 +0100

You might find this article I wrote a little over a year ago about attempts
to introduce free software into London's regional government:



On 7 September 2011 12:35, Jon Grant <address@hidden> wrote:

> Lucky the figures were provided in CSV format!
> http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14765545
> Can Whitehall open up to open source?
> What's Whitehall's attitude to software procurement? A cynic might sum
> it up as "nobody ever got sacked for buying Microsoft".
> The current government has vowed to change the civil service mindset
> that has always preferred to spend money with the biggest firms and
> has been conservative about open source software.
> The Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has vowed to create a level
> playing field for open source as part of a drive to cut costs.
> Now a BBC Freedom of Information (FOI) request has given us a glimpse
> of how big the challenge will be.
> We asked government departments for details of how much they had spent
> on proprietary software over the past year, and how much open source
> software they had acquired.
> The responses have been dribbling in for months now (available as a
> Google doc, an Excel spreadsheet or as separate .csv files below), and
> they've varied from detailed accounts of software and expenditure, to
> refusals to provide any information on the grounds that it would cost
> too much.
> Our excellent FOI researcher Julia Ross has compiled a spreadsheet of
> each department's responses.
> Mixed response
> This is not the kind of FOI request that unveils some shocking secret,
> but it does provide insights into the kind of software civil servants
> are buying, and why open-source providers may struggle to get a
> hearing.
> So, for instance, the Home Office provided a detailed list of about
> £26m worth of proprietary software acquired over 18 months.
> Of that, £21m went to just one business, Raytheon Systems for "IT,
> Broadcasting and Telecoms software".
> It seems extraordinary to push something like 80% of your software
> budget to one provider - but who knows whether an open-source supplier
> could have provided a product that would have done the job?
> The Ministry of Defence was unable to provide a breakdown but says its
> biggest IT organisation DE&S ISS spent £40.7m on procuring software
> between February 2009 and March 2011.
> Perhaps not a huge budget for such a big organisation but where did
> the money go?
> They do mention a few products - much of it security software like
> McAfee Anti Virus - but do not say what individual items cost.
> In its response the department says that, while it is progressively
> taking a more centralised approach, "there is no centrally held record
> of software (proprietary or open source) held across the MOD".
> There is also a partial list of some open-source products used,
> including the Firefox browser - though last time I inquired it seemed
> you were more likely to find an ancient version of Internet Explorer
> on a soldier's desktop PC.
> By contrast, the Department for Schools did supply quite a lot of detail.
> One item that caught my eye was £164,063 on something called Colligo
> Solution.
> This is described as something which will "enhance the
> interoperability of Microsoft Office 2003 specifically Microsoft
> Outlook/Exchange 2003, with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007"
> for all of the department's 3,500 staff.
> I asked Stuart Mackintosh of the open-source firm OpusVL for his view
> on what the documents revealed.
> He is on a Cabinet Office committee advising on how open source might
> best be promoted in Whitehall, and is not unsympathetic to the efforts
> of some civil servants to make this happen.
> But he points to that Colligo Solution software - needed to upgrade an
> existing Microsoft program - as an example of the challenges.
> "I don't know the exact story with that product but often they've
> already wasted a lot of money in the wrong place," he says. "They're
> locked in, and then they need to pay more money to stay where they
> are."
> Uphill struggle
> He thinks there is a big cultural problem because, while civil
> servants know how to deal with big firms like Microsoft and have
> existing relationships with them, they simply don't know how to start
> with open source.
> "How do you buy something that's free?" he asks. "It's the job of
> people like me to help them work it out."
> Mr Mackintosh also believes that by outsourcing so much of its IT
> operations, Whitehall has lost the ability to understand what might
> work.
> He says: "They need to be able to take a few more risks, but they
> don't have the skills internally to assess the software."
> I also showed the documents to Bryan Glick who, as editor of Computer
> Weekly, spends much of his time reporting on government IT policy.
> Pointing at the numerous small amounts spent here and there he says:
> "It shows how little centralised spending control there is and how
> much duplication."
> This, he thought, reinforced what Sir Philip Green said in his
> purchasing review last year about government missing out on economies
> of scale.
> Bryan was not surprised that many of the government departments could
> not give us much detail on their software spending.
> "Where a large private sector firm would almost certainly have some
> form of software asset register for audit purposes, there's nothing
> like that in Whitehall," he explained, "although they're working on
> just that at the Cabinet Office."
> Right now, the idea of trying to work with Whitehall is pretty
> daunting to small, open-source providers.
> The good news is that there is plenty of political weight behind
> opening the doors to new software ideas - especially if they can save
> money.
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