back to article Cabinet Office shuns open-source in IT-tracking deal

The Cabinet Office and its IT underlings have exhaustively championed the need for more OSS across government since the ConDem Coalition was cobbled together in May 2010. Nonetheless Francis Maude's department has just snubbed open source players by awarding a contract to a proprietary software provider to help establish how …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Chris 3

    Much as I like open source solutions...

    There are occassions where the proprietary offerings are more fully featured, or polished. So perhaps the Cabinet Office just chose the more appropriate package.

    1. Martin Owens

      Cost of Creation

      The way open source software is created, deployed and maintained is subtly different from proprietary methods.

      Simply the cost of creation is higher, deployment is comparable and maintenance is lower. Open Source tends towards the long haul and if your project only requires you use the software for one weekend, it's not too important what exactly the method of production was.

      But if you're doing some kind of crazy, integrated system which includes lots of government data and plan to be in use for a few years. You might want to consider placing more emphasis on maintenance costs.

      It sounds like to me that they understand there is a bias for proprietary, and that it should be fixed. But they're not exactly understanding why open source appears more expensive on their calculations yet. Point being that their calculations are not accounting for factors that make proprietary expensive over long periods.

      Or one of the blokes bought the guy a really nice lunch at a fancy restaurant, either way. ;-)

      1. Solomon Grundy

        Cost of Creation?

        Yes there is a cost of creation, but it isn't paid to Contributors. OSS isn't very good at the 'cost' part. A HUGE community of talented people contributes but very few of them see any tangible result from it. They contribute and other people take and make money from it. In a business most OSS projects would be losers overall if the cost of creation is taken into account.

        That being said, very few tech people are business savvy. Very few business people are tech savvy. That's why it takes lots of people to make a successful business. It's really not fair to knock on numbers you don't really understand.

  2. OSC

    And is anyone surprised?

    As Mulder(?) said "I want to believe" - it all started with that famous "wherever possible" January OGC procurement note, which as we said at the time - includes "nowhere"

  3. Turtle

    Stop whining.

    I would like to look at this in some detail.

    "Readers need only cast their minds back to a damning report published by the public administration select committee (PASC) last month that lambasted over-reliance on big IT firms in Whitehall over many years."

    That seems to be about the size of the firms being awarded contracts, and does not actually touch up whether tose firms supply open source or proprietary software.

    "The cross-party group of MPs, whose committee is chaired by Tory politico Bernard Jenkin, labelled the IT-buying culture in central government as an "obscene" waste of taxpayer money."

    Neither this quote nor the one immediately following show or imply that the "'obscene' waste" is due to the cost of licenses for proprietary software, as opposed to other factors. In fact, it does not even ascribe this waste to any particular cause, let alone to the use of proprietary as opposed to open source.

    "But despite all the open-source rhetoric, openistas including Red Hat, Alfresco and Sirius Corp were shunned by the Cabinet Office after a pilot - set up using OSS components - was overlooked on 5 August in favour of a proprietary system."

    Nothing that you have cited shows any promise on the part of the government to use open source in all situations, no matter how it compares to proprietary solutions.

    "The minister had this to say, for example, in November last year: There are competitive processes, but actually the way we do procurement is often excluding smaller suppliers from the process. . . Very costly, very over-engineered and it isn't the open competition that we want to see that really does drive value and drives innovation.""

    Again, nothing in those statements speaks to the question of open source vs proprietary; the matter being discussed seems to be the size of the supplier, and nothing beyond that.

    "He also called on open standards and interoperability as key components in IT systems."

    Did he mention what other factors trump this, and what other factors are trumped by it, in any given situation?

    "Finally, McCluggage said he wanted the use of open source software within government to become normal practice. Notably, those plans had simply built on a pre-election Tory pledge that stated it wanted to "create a level playing field" for OSS within Whitehall."

    That does not seem to imply that open source will be chosen over proprietary software every time, in all circumstances. Actually, it is still possible for open source, on a level playing field, to lose every time.

    "The winning bid was assessed as providing value for money. It was comprehensive and scored highest when compared with the other bids on the basis of its ability to fulfil the functional requirements."

    And your reasons for thinking that this is not true are...?

    "How can you preach 'Openness' and 'New Suppliers to Government' while simultaneously locking yourself even further into Closed and Proprietary with the same old suppliers to government?, asked Taylor..."

    Again, nothing in the article seems to state or imply that open source will be chosen over proprietary software in all circumstances regardless of all other factors involved.

    "Either Cabinet Office are leading the change, as they claim they will, or they are entrenching the same old practice, which is what they seem to be doing."

    Can you show that requiring open source software in this particular instance will be more effective and cost effective than the proprietary solution that was chosen?


    To sum up: stop whining, and prove that there was an open source solution that was superior to the one chosen. That you feel that open source should have been chosen solely on ideological grounds might be sufficient for you, but there are other people who are not impressed.

    1. Ru

      tl;dr. lrn2precis

      The interesting stuff is in the 'openness' of the backend storage system and formats.

      The usual suspects for UK government IT, such as Capita, have a delightful habit of using deliberately obfuscated and crazy database schemata, for example, leaving you pretty much locked in to their godawful 'solution' for ever and ever, or at least until the whole sorry mess is ditched.

      I have no objection about my hard earned tax pennies being used for proprietary software, but I do object to funding a cheap lockin solution that will become more and more expensive at reliance upon it increases. But I don't see how we're ever going to find out what will be done for years and years, if ever.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Govt procurement

    So it was government procurement done how it's always done (and will probably always be done)? A level playing field of bids from a wide-variety of industry suppliers to be considered on their merits. And then the contract is awarded to the department head's mate's firm.

    Pint icon because the pub is where the decision is usually made.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Same old, same old ...

    Friend of mine tells me that at local government and public body level these things are decided after a round of golf and a nice lunch paid for by a Microsoft rep or whoever. They think he's their "pal". It isn't rocket surgery.

    The people with the key to the cashbox know nothing about technology and swallow any old shit they get handed.

    Foregone conclusion.

    1. Solomon Grundy

      Normal Business

      A round of golf and some nice lunchs is normal business and there is nothing wrong with that. The only people who bitch about it are the people who aren't getting to play golf.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'd agree, but ...

        a) these people should be in consultation before blowing the IT budget on unsuitable "solutions", which they're not

        and ...

        b) their data is highly sensitive material they want to hand over to the "cloud" because they like playing buzzword bingo and don't know what it means nor what the implications are. Again, all without consultation or independent analysis which would tell them their proposed plan is a very big waste of money and technically unsound.

        No. Those people don't get invited because they might tell the truth. And we can't have that, can we?

        Never mind. A swift pint in the clubhouse should make all those troublesome issues go away, eh?

        1. Solomon Grundy

          Make it Work

          You've got to understand that everyone has a boss to report to. Whether it's a techy-goobldy-today's-greatest-thing or getting a deal done and money in the bank to make sure your paycheck clears.

          Put any technology on the spot and show me how it will MAKE money. Most techies get hung up on things that SAVE money or make things more efficient. Show me a technology that will put the techies out of work is what they are really driving towards but I hear lots of bitching when I make people redundant because of the technology.

          IT is a cost center. It costs money. If you can't make what you have work you've probably been made redundant but something better.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Pedants corner

      "It isn't rocket surgery."

      Shurely quote is "It isn't rocket science."

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        Pendants corner

        No, its a case of you play ball with me and I'll scratch yours

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Not always

        "Doctor, would you care to assist me on performing surgery on a torpedo"


      3. Goat Jam

        Shurely quote is "It isn't rocket science."

        "It isn't rocket science."


        "It isn't brain surgery"


        "It isn't rocket surgery"

        You FAIL at Internet pedantry.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          The troll icon works then

          see title

  6. RichyS

    Stop this nonsense forthwith

    Personally, I couldn't give a shit whether the system procured was open source or not. All I hope is that the system provided the best fit in terms of capability for lowest cost (best value, in other words).

    OSS is not intrinsically better or cheaper than proprietary. This article seems to advocate positive discrimination towards OSS; which IMHO would be a very Bad Thing.

  7. Ru

    The total cost... should be no more than £100k



    1. Anonymous Coward

      The total cost... should be no more than £100k

      They'll get the work experience kid to do it.

  8. Stu J


    Thank f**k they shunned Alfresco. Biggest waste of time and money I've ever had the displeasure to support.

    Open Source does not automatically equal Good

  9. David Dawson

    Worth pointing out

    £100k is quite a bit of money when compared to say, the price of bacon.

    When you look at it in relation to what they might actually want, it doesn't really sound that sinister. They'll almost certainly be using off the shelf/ prebuilt software for this, with a reasonable amount of customisation, training and support.

    £100k over 3 years works out at what? 1 person full time for the life of the contract maybe? That doesn't take into account any licensing/ other costs that might be involved (by this I mean to a third party, for OS/ hardware/ other software)

    They'd have to front load the costs to a large extent to get the project developed and deployed, have any training done etc. Leaving a smaller portion to allocate for the on going maintenance over the next couple of years. There's going to be profit, of course, but it doesn't sound like there's room for crazy figures.

    So, it sounds a reasonably sensible award. Just because they didn't use OSS doesn't mean its a bad decision. They said before that it needs to be a level playing field. If they then don't choose the side you want, that doesn't make it biased, it simply proves they aren't biased in your direction, nothing more. As said above, OSS doesn't equate to good. It might be good, or it might not.

    1. Goat Jam

      Reasonably Sensible

      This of course depends on whether their claim that it will only cost 100K pans out that way

  10. Just Thinking


    The open source project myHowMuchDoesTheUKGovernmentSpendOnIT would seem to be ideal for this purpose, and it is free, so why don't they just use that?

    They are buying a *system* which is going to need specifying, developing, rolling out, support, training etc. No automatic reason to assume that an open source vendor is going to be cheaper or better than anyone else.

  11. Joefish

    "Value for Money - No Matter the Cost"

    The motto of modern Government procurement.

    So, we think we're wasting money on IT projects. What shall we do?

    I know, let's let an IT project for someone to tell us how much we're wasting!

    Great. Oop, fire drill - everyone to the pub!

  12. opusvl

    How important is Open Source in a project?

    I was behind one of the bids that was not selected and my company is an OSS specialist SME.

    However, it does not matter simply if the solution is OSS or not, it matters if the solution will be a good fit, meet the requirements and be delivered within the expected budget and time. And most importantly that the business need is properly understood in the first instance. Within a few months, we should all be able to look back at the solution and judge for ourselves if our money was well spent.

    For this and most other ongoing projects, it is the exit cost that can be the hardest to quantify and can restrict the option of exit in many cases meaning that other costs can be introduced later. The Government are aware of this but have not woven it in to the procurement process. As an assessment criteria, it could alter the scoring and provide a better understanding of the overall costs.

    Amongst other benefits, OSS does reduce the exit risks and can open up the solution to competition instead of a single supply situation for the life of the contract. As buyers learn this, the use of OSS will increase.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Maybe, just maybe... was the right tool for the job?

    Or could that be a little to simplistic.

    1. opusvl

      Maybe so ...

      That may be the case, and if so, it is a good result for all.

  14. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

    It's all the consultants fault; we'll use different ones the next time.

    As someone who has worked in the public sector (No I don't have a non-contributory inflation proof pension, I was on a contract), all as I can say is that the public sector and politicians *LOVE* consultants – see title.

    I'll get my coat, you can blame me when I'm gone.

  15. Bluenose

    Confused of Milton Keynes here

    The article implies that this wonderful new proprietary solution will help the govt to understand where it is spending money, how much services cost, etc. and then I look at the solutions that were being considered and the winner is a ......

    A company that designs websites and can help you with content management!!

    So based on this I think that all that has been chosen here is a company who will pull some data in from somewhere and give a mandarin some kind of a web interface to lots of systems and the cost of this enterprise will be £100K.

    I remember when organisations had their own developers who could write this type of thing for their employers and who knew where the data was and the structure it was stored in. Obviously the govt has managed to sack all these people as part of its budget cutting exercise. Or more realistically they have kicked off a project that they don't really know how to define and deliver but they know it needs to be a web based front end because everything looks that way now.

    Fail because, well it just will

    1. Solomon Grundy
      Black Helicopters

      Agree 100%

      But I don't think it's just budget cutting exercises. Somewhere tech crossed over a line that took it into "specialist only" territory. Now anything that has to do with computers can be better handled by an outsider; which is bullshit and any IT professional knows it.

      The blame falls with IT itself: I think almost everyone it IT (myself included) has been guilty of overstating the complexity of things. Whether to impress someone for a bit more salary/hourly rate, make a sale, or save themselves a bit of work; and it's screwed us all. The IT community as a whole has succeeded in scaring everyone outside the community of "computer stuff". That's why tech companies that make things that "just work" are doing so well right now, even though the end user is getting a sub-standard product that really can't do much. People are scared of technology (including managers/bosses) whose success is rated on the success of what they spend money on - they are scared and don't want to take what they see as risk.

      IT preaches FUD but has failed to recognize the maturing nature of IT as a whole. IT has succeeded in integrating itself into almost everyone's life but hasn't gotten past the stage of needing an "outside super specialist" to make it go. Jobs like the one in this article SHOULD be handled internally but the decision makers have been scared off of that. It's not too late to change that but the overall attitude of people in IT must accept and adjust to the fact that the everyman and the people in charge are tired of hearing complicated tech speak. That's why decision makers like flow charts. It makes very complex things easy for them to understand. Their jobs force their minds to be focused elsewhere on things they view as just as complex as our "geek stuff". The IT community can do a lot to help themselves if they'll just accept that that they are now 'part' of a team and not the whole team. It will let us keep jobs in house with steady salaries and ideally move IT towards not being the whipping boy who works 60-80 hours a week.

  16. Eduard Coli

    Money is better

    The kickbacks are better from M$.

  17. candtalan

    The 2011 Cabinet Office ICT Strategy includes

    "....The adoption of compulsory open standards will help government to avoid lengthy vendor lock-in......"


  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Note that £100k was what the govt *wants* to pay.

    Time will tell if that's what they end *up* paying.

    As others have pointed out it's the old byzantine *secret* data base schema which will lock the govt into them forever and a day.

    Your product is managing *our* data. If we want to dump it we want you to be able to write out that data and it's structure in a way that *allows* us to re-load it into another system.

    That's a *contract* issue. Not OSS or proprietary.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    it is a toxic project

    It is a bespoke development project building interfaces to oodles of existing asset register systems with no common APIs or interchange formats. I have *no* idea what the open source element of this project was to be, they just wanted warm bodies to code up bespoke interfaces from scratch, and they didn't want to pay much for them. The chances are that the winners are an existing supplier of asset management stuff and already own half the interfaces and wouldn't cooperate well with a new supplier so yes, they would be the cheapest option if they already had a lock-in position. This wasn't a contract looking for a community run asset register project (such as or the RT asset management bit) to leverage and contribute to, they wanted to use open source suppliers as cheap labour. Those who lost dodged a bullet and have nothing to complain about.

    1. Solomon Grundy

      OSS Is Cheap Labor

      OSS is developed and given away for free. That's what it is. The products are great but as long as people are giving it away for free why not use it? This is the old cow/milk - girl/sex argument and there's no way to win it (unless you're getting the milk or the sex for free). Either give it away free and have everyone look at you like a slut or charge for it and put some money in your pocket. The only 3rd option is not to play the game.

      1. AlanBell

        you are missing the point

        we *want* them to use the code, that isn't the problem. In this particular project they don't want existing code, they want warm bodies to sit and code up bespoke interfaces (maybe releasing the output under an open license, maybe not) either way they want day rate consultancy services, not to use already written open code. They just don't want to pay big SI rates. This isn't about developed products at all, it is about commissioning development work.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022