Using open source to open doors in local government

Despite the rising tide of economic optimism, local government organisations are set to continue to see budget reductions throughout the year.

These restraints will place increased pressure on organisations to balance the books without jeopardising core and critical public services. But with local councils preparing to manage an estimated reduction in spending power of 2.9% over the next year, delivering more with less may seem a daunting task.
Already over the last few years local councils have initiated huge cost saving programmes, from reducing headcounts to slashing waste, many decision-makers will be wondering what else they can do to make the necessary savings. 

The answer to this conundrum lies in technology investment, or more specifically embracing a new forms of IT that cost a lot less and deliver significantly improved services.

For many years, expensive mega-vendors have dominated the IT procurement space in the UK public sector. In this environment, the notion that buying into costly, inflexible contracts is somehow the ‘safe option’ has taken hold and led to numerous bad purchasing decisions on projects that often finish over budget and over time.

This endemic culture has led to unprecedented waste and also meant that smaller providers have had reduced opportunity to improve public services, even if they provide effective, viable solutions.

However, there has recently been a marked shift from the government to create a level playing field for the consideration of open source alternatives, a trend triggered by the launch of the Cabinet Office open source toolkit.

The role of open source providers has been further championed via official public sector publications encouraging SMEs to have greater opportunity to participate in the government procurement process, a move which is both financially prudent and wise to enable genuine competition in this space. 

This commitment was effectively enshrined by a public statement from Liam Maxwell, government CTO who said “Open source is at the heart of our commitment to deliver digital public services designed around the needs of citizens.”

Local government organisations can look to examples of successful open source deployment in central government as a source of inspiration for delivering better services alongside significant savings.

Major sites such as GOV.UK has made extensive use of open source software, including databases, frameworks, caches and web servers through their technology stack. The digital services provided by GOV.UK have been estimated to save taxpayers over £20million.

But the government cannot deliver this change alone. Despite all the public pledges and commitments, there is still a trend to select proprietary providers even if there is an increased financial burden associated with the decision.

There are already some bold examples of major IT projects being conducted via alternate open source providers, with the National Archives transforming its database successfully and securely.

With these examples in mind, local government decision-makers need to look again at how best to manage IT operations to make savings whilst improving public services. 

The collective thinking and cost-effectiveness that open source providers offer cannot be matched in terms of expertise of value for money by the traditional proprietary software providers. This cultural shift will open the door for a new era of innovative IT solutions that can transform local government services, empowering staff and delivering unrivalled value to taxpayers.

The first step in this journey is for local government organisations to wake up and recognise that the old way of doing this cannot continue. 

The second step is to look around and examine the huge array of alternatives on the market. The third is to implement and engage with open source to demonstrate a bold approach to IT, a move which will delight the government and taxpayers alike.

Joe Morrissey is Vice President, EMEA at MongoDB

Colin Marrs

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