In 2009 the UK government announced a new approach to open source. It ensures that open source is treated on a level playing field with proprietary solutions. But I think the government should go much further and use open source as the foundation for its core systems.
It's clear that our current approach to government IT is badly broken. Taxpayers have suffered £26bn of losses as a result of a string of computing disasters involving massively late, over-budget, and broken systems.
We must move to a new model that avoids the reasons behind this catastrophe: reliance on massive system revolutions rather than incremental improvement, lock-in to vendors, a lack of government understanding and control of IT, and the dominance of large suppliers at the expense of small and medium sized businesses.
- An army of developers, from huge corporates to individual developers in their spare time
- A community of developers, carefully cultivated and encouraged by the foundation, with shared values
- Total freedom from lock-in, using open source licenses
- Focus on steady evolution rather then complete revolution
In this approach, the major government departments should set up their own IT foundations, with carefully written missions and a budget to encourage community participation (via public prizes, conferences, and total openness in the technical approach). Individual workers, or small, medium and large businesses alike could volunteer to develop the code, as a charity or in the hope of being hired full time.
There would be two additional benefits to developing open source government systems. Firstly, governments around the world could share development costs by contributing together. This could save the UK government huge amounts in the long term. Secondly, building a community of government IT developers in the UK would provide a huge benefit to the economy - building the skills and experience of volunteers (including students) in just the areas likely to require staffing.
So I believe it's time to get much more ambitious about open source in government. We should be using it not just to purchase cheap infrastructure, but to actually lead the development of core systems. Doing so would help free us from many of the issues plaguing government IT, but also provide a real public benefit to the citizens of this country.