The first Open Gov Summit took place yesterday May 30th in Central Hall Westminster, London. London-based open source consultancy Zaizi hosted the fully-booked Summit, which attracted an eclectic audience that included open source pundits, public sector IT leaders of open source projects, open source software suppliers, consultants and journalists.
The delegates came together to take part in an impassioned, critical debate, which examined how transitioning from proprietary to open source software has the potential to transform the UK’s public sector, making it much more efficient and less expensive, while dramatically improving its services.
Government and institutional speakers included among others: Mark O’Neill, Head of Service Delivery at the Government Digital Service, Tariq Rashid, Lead Architect at the UK Home Office, Graham Mallin, Head of Enterprise Architecture at the Met Office, Graham Taylor CEO and Co-Founder of OpenForum Europe and Gerry Gavigan, Chair of the Open Source Consortium. Glyn Moody, author of “Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution” (2001), hosted a QA session and there were also panel discussions and ‘Open Mic’ sessions about the opportunities, challenges and myths surrounding the use of open source in the public sector.
Throughout the day, three main themes emerged:
- ‘Green shoots’ are appearing – Although the UK lags behind the US, European and BRIC countries in adopting open source in the public sector, ‘green shoots’ are starting to appear as more local councils like Bristol City Council and central government departments like the Cabinet Office, the Met Office and the Home Office champion its use through projects designed to inform and engage citizens.
- Obstacles to adoption remain – A risk averse public sector culture combined with procurement red tape still prevents many open source providers, which have limited resources, from competing on a level playing field. Proprietary mega-vendors continue to lobby government relentlessly against moving to open source technology and perpetuate myths that technology is not secure or reliable. Also, many felt that UK schools and universities needed to adapt their IT curricula so that more young people develop open source skills.
- Government will ultimately do the right thing – Despite the obstacles, most speakers and delegates agreed that the tide is turning and in due course, there will be so many high-profile case studies of open source being used in mission-critical public and private sector scenarios around the world that the UK not want to be exposed for failing to move with the times and take advantage of the huge potential savings to the taxpayer. The open source myths are being debunked as more private sector companies from Amazon to Google to the New York Stock Exchange run their mission-critical systems on open source software.
Following yesterday’s success, Zaizi, which hosted the event in partnership with its sponsors Alfresco, Red Hat, eXo Platform and Ephesoft has confirmed that it will run Open Gov Summit again in 2013.
Aingaran Pillai, CEO of Zaizi and organizer commented: “In this first event we placed ourselves at the heart of what we hope will be an conversation with government, industry and development communities about how to practically apply open source in the UK’s public sector. This was a personal highlight for me because I have dedicated most of my career working to implement and promote the benefits of open source software especially in government.”
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