UK Government – Openly Disconnected!

Posted on March 21, 2012


Anyone who has ready my earlier views on ‘Open Source a Misguided Fervour’ will know that I believe Open Source ICT solutions are not an ICT ‘Silver Bullet’ or practical as an exclusive policy directive.

So reflecting back on the UK Government’s record where it first set out its policy on the use of open source in 2004, was restated in both 2009 and 2010, I can now probably add 2012 with the recent soap box antics on Twitter from our Cabinet Office. Then and now it appears its ICT strategy is and remains “Where appropriate, Government will procure open source solutions.”

It is encouraging to see the commission here in Europe openly supporting the level playing field between Open and ‘closed’ source software by advocating that solutions and product must stand on its own merits Quote: ‘The Commission is technologically neutral and does not require European Union member states to prefer a particular category of software or business model over another’.

So discordant is the voice from Westminster with the mature balanced tone from Europe that I wonder if this is the first signs of a wider agenda to distance ourselves from Europe. One can only hope so, but on this subject I fear it is woefully misguided.

I regret that on all the evidence it is simply a reflection of how much unhealthy influence the large intellectual property-based organizations that hide behind the aprons of the Open Source Community have on Westminster. They have their claws in at the highest level’s, it is no surprise when you reflect on the influence Steve Hilton has who is married to Rachel Whetstone, Google’s European head of communications and apparently gives unbiased aide to Cameron.

The disillusion as to the benefits of Open Source are further championed in ignorance by Liam Maxwell, Cabinet Office director of ICT futures as he seems to imply it will support SME’s. In fact it has been proven across the European OSS debate that quite the opposite is the case. The vast majority of SME’s succeed and fail according to traditional market forces and economics, that’s what the banks and investors demand. Investors expect security in the form of Intellectual Property in their investment and banks expect to see something tangible to lend against.

The disillusioned view that Open Source is laughably similar in its detachment from real world economics, if it were not for the realities, to the recent view of the largely publicly owned Royal bank of Scotland when its CEO asked to be treated like a commercial organization. If the RBS had been treated like a commercial organization, a reality facing all SME’s in the market, it would have been allowed to go BUST. Instead it is paying bonuses out of taxpayers funding, even in a year it makes a multimillion pound loss. The same poor judgment will incur taxpayers money in a policy that drives state ICT down an OSS one way street. It is a cul-de-sac, that Europe has had the foresight to backhaul out of, a lesson Westminster is insistent on ignoring.

As for the Open Source Community, the invidious reality is how they are being taken for granted. The ‘Gift Economics’ behind much of their voluntary time and effort is little more than Digital Enslavement (see my earlier blog on which expands this them in a social media context). Where all title and ownership is denied to them for the productivity of their communal efforts. Economic value that finds its way into the hands of a few – Red Hat, IBM, Google, and Facebook amongst others. This is no egalitarian outcome but the concentration of wealth in large commercial businesses built on the shifting sands of goodwill, not the sound economics of commercially prudent investors and SME’s.

Maxwell needs to revisit his thinking if he still believes that Open Source is the sole answer for Government to move away from what he calls "black-box" contracts involving big IT vendors to more agile systems delivered by small and medium sized enterprises. His view seems to point to the actual issue, "black-box" contracts, or interpreted as an inability to negotiate a sound commercial agreement!

A pity some of these people do not spend more time in the SME trenches before they are let loose in political life!