Open source technology should be used to help commoditise government IT to move from cost-heavy bespoke systems to the more competitive end of the market, Tariq Rashid, IT Reform, Cabinet Office has said.
He also warned that by using customised IT solutions, or trying to aggregate demand to drive discounts, government departments were losing their power as a customer and missing out on the fierce dynamics of the commodity market.
Rashid made his comments while speaking at the Open Gov Summit 2013 in London today, where he also reiterated the Cabinet Office's current approach to IT - specifically, the drive towards user need, agile development and sustained value.
He did however, elaborate further on the sustained value and how the government needs to change its approach to achieve it.
"If you can sustain competitive tension beyond the point of purchase, that's the only thing that's going to give you long term value," he said.
"We've been putting too much effort into trying to extract effort from the market, by standardising services, approaching suppliers and asking for discount in the promise of users."
The result has been technical dependencies and the wrong approach to the market.
Majority of government IT systems are commodity technologies
However, open standards are an enabler - "a critically important way of aiding this decoupling in order to gain business value," Rashid explains.
Explaining how most technology becomes commodity over time, he also said that government departments should be aware of this. Over time, technology becomes widely adopted, then benefits of scale and understanding mean there it becomes common, with much less difference between suppliers.
Rashid said that the majority of government IT systems are commodity technologies, including email, monitoring, intranet, and virtualisation systems. "There's plenty of providers for these," he explains.
When it comes to the high-end IT systems that need bespoke solutions, or where there isn't a wide number of suppliers, Rashid added: "I really struggle to think of something that's special that isn't in abundance."
"I could only think of special high-end security IT, but then government is supposed to be using commercial solutions in that area - which are in abundance."
Despite the event circling around open source and open government, much of the early discussion largely avoided the topic.
However, Rashid did conclude by noting that open source is "nothing to be afraid of".
He explained that it helps IT move towards the commodity end of the market and that underneath the majority of 'unique' systems, services are largely built out of common IT elements.
Rashid also pointed towards others that are using open source technology, noting that "serious organisations are using it seriously" and that it's not less secure.
"CESG, the public sector's authority on information security will tell you that open source is no more or less secure than proprietary technology.
"If your security advisors aren't saying that,we need to do something about that at the highest level – let us know."
Is open source technology the solution to governments high IT costs? Let us know your views in the comments below, or tweet us @PublicTech