Open source gets UK public sector boost

An organisation aims to help small open-source companies win government contracts
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
A group of open-source providers that aims to promote the deployment of open source in the public sector was launched on Monday.

The consortium, known as the Open Source Consortium (OSC), has over 60 members, the majority of which are based in the UK.

Mark Taylor, the executive director of the OSC, said it is primarily aimed at promoting open source in government organisations, where there are barriers to its adoption.

"The consortium is targeted at the public sector as open-source adoption is coming on brilliantly in the private sector," said Taylor. "The public sector has dynamics of its own and companies that deal with it have to work to various guidelines."

There are various ways that the consortium hopes to help the deployment of open source in the public sector, including getting involved with the tendering process.

The OSC is encouraging local councils to put out tenders via them and has already put a couple of councils in touch with open-source companies, according to Taylor. Small open-source companies often find it hard to win government tenders as they may be too small to tackle bigger projects. The OSC is helping these companies by putting together a consortium of members, which are more likely to win projects with their combined resources.

"If an organisation is doing an open-source deployment and it is bigger than the resources of the open-source company, how can the company get the project done?" said Taylor. "What does the company do if its key expert is ill? A consortium can guarantee that the project will get done."

To provide an extra level of assurance to those deploying open source, the OSC ensures that any open-source company it recommends complies with strict financial rules so that if the company goes bankrupt, the customer's investment is protected, according to the OSC Web site.

The public sector has guidelines on what companies it can work with, which can inhibit its use of open source. Taylor said it is currently working with various government departments to create codes of conduct for open-source companies.

As well as helping with the deployment of open source, the OSC aims to raise awareness of open source within the public sector. Taylor said that organisations can rely on the consortium's advice being independent as it doesn't also make money by selling proprietary products or hardware.

"We stand as an independent voice representing a purely open-source perspective," said Taylor. "We don't have any proprietary interests -- we don't have any proprietary middleware or hardware we want to sell. We can give vendor-neutral advice on open-source systems."

As it wants to provide a "proprietary-vendor free" voice, the OSC only permits organisations to join if the vast majority of their business revenue is generated from open source.

Open source in the public sector was boosted in October when the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) published a report describing Linux as 'a viable desktop alternative for the majority of government users'.

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