UK government’s open source commitment words not deeds says Ingres VP

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke today about the government’s IT strategy, including a mention for how open source technology can reduce costs:

… we will unleash data and content to the community to turn into applications that meet genuine needs. This does not require large-scale government IT Infrastructure; the ‘open source’ technology that will make it happen is freely available. All that is required is the will and willingness of the centre to give up control.

A naïve statement: “IT Infrastructure” normally refers to hardware as well as software. Hardware is not “freely available”; and even in cases where free open source software is used, the management and software development effort does not come for free either.

The closest thing to free IT infrastructure is something like Google Apps, which is not open source, but subsidised by advertising alongside Google’s confidence that it can make money somehow if you commit to its platform.

Still, leaving that aside, it is good to hear that the UK government recognises the benefits of open source. Or does it? Steve Shine, executive VP of worldwide operations at the open source database vendor Ingres, is sceptical:

This is not the first time such platitudes have been made by the government.  Over the past 12 months the office of the CIO has continually pointed to open source as the key to reducing capital expenditure on large public sector IT projects.  We at Ingres work with public sector bodies daily and have not seen the enforcement of these policies at a practical level and so view this announcement cautiously.   Right now there is a very large negotiation underway to renew Oracle’s contract with the MOD which in theory should be put to competitive tender but sadly is being conducted behind closed doors.

We therefore urge the government to enforce the ideas put forward today: Put steps in place to open up the public sector IT procurement process, run tenders in public and put penalties in place for those bodies that fail to assess open source software.

Ingres has a direct commercial interest in this, of course, so such statements are not surprising. Shine has a point though. It takes more than a few speeches to change the software culture of the myriad departments and other state-run entities that between them compose government IT.