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UK.gov: We really are going to start buying open-source from SMEs

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Intellect 2012 Open source and open standards are the direction for UK government IT, the civil servant leading the government's technology change agenda has said.

Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office director of ICT futures, said Tuesday in London that open source has grown up and it's time to dispel lingering misconceptions about this technology and development process.

Maxwell told the Intellect 2012 conference: “Opensource software is not three guys in a shed anymore. There are a lot of misconceptions about open source but open source is the future model for delivering IT.”

He was speaking the day before the Cabinet Office opens a three-month period of consultation on open standards to be used in the government's G-Cloud initiative.

G-Cloud is intended to establish a series of frameworks on software, hardware and services and on purchasing to help deliver IT more effectively and reduce costs across government.

The three-month consultation process due Friday is intended to take input on open standards that would underpin G-Cloud. Maxwell promised the consultation is an important part of G-Cloud saying it has the “same authority” as the consultation on a new airport. “We are serious about this,” Maxwell said.

The consultation comes as the government prepares to announce which IT vendors will be G-Cloud certified. More than 600 companies are reported to have expressed an interest in the framework.

Underscoring the government’s interest in open source Maxwell said that last week he'd accompanied Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude, overseeing the government's digital transition, on a tour of Silicon Valley tech companies working with open source and big data – Cloudera, specializing in the Google-inspired Hadoop data munching framework, and MongoDB specialist 10Gen. Maxwell also introduced his ministerial boss to cloud software infrastructure specialist Joyent and eBay's payment arm PayPal.

“We have a minister who really gets this," Maxwell said. "That's where the future is moving. It's moving to  a new model of service and delivery, it's big data and big data is going to be open source. We are going to spend a lot of time looking into that. If we move to being one common government we need open source,” he said.

The idea is to move away from what Maxwell called “black-box” contracts involving big IT vendors to more agile systems delivered by small and medium sized enterprises. The thinking seems to be SME equals open source and open standards, while big means the same old proprietary vendors.

“For years we spent on IT systems built for bureaucrats, they were not built for people,” he said.

It's a message that's been coming out of government for a long while. Perhaps this time it will actually happen. ®

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