Why the government is backing open source software

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© Marina Putilova

The use of open source software has exploded in recent years, with an estimated €1 billion invested in open source technology within Europe in 2018 alone

This trend is only growing stronger, as organisations look to access the benefits of agility and scalability that non-proprietary code can offer.

Since open source software is now a prominent and indispensable aspect of the digital infrastructure, it is not surprising to see the UK government take advantage of open source technology. Research by Aiven has discovered that 71% of UK government tech workers report the Government is now using more open source software compared to five years ago.

Multiple advantages arise from the use of open source software that governments are beginning to wake up to, such as recruiting talent, retaining and sharing knowledge as well as greatly enabling digital transformation strategies. And let’s not forget that open source software also enables the government to save on costly licensing fees.

Recruiting talent

With an ongoing tech talent shortage, giving developers access to open source software has considerable benefits that governments can enjoy, chief of which is their ability to recruit and retain top talent. Indeed, three-quarters of tech workers stated that providing access to open source will help the UK government hire more software developers and engineers.

This is ever more imperative at a time when the public sector cannot match the salaries of their private sector counterparts regarding technology-related roles. The availability of open source software offers potential recruits a transparent view of the work they will be undertaking. When a software engineer comes to a government department for an interview, they can see precisely the codebase they’ll be working on, allowing for a greater understanding of the nature and scope of work, which is highly sought after by developers.

Retaining and sharing knowledge

Open source software also allows governments to retain skills and knowledge within departments. With software development being highly specialised, there is a significant risk of departmental knowledge loss with staff turnover. Knowledge is better shared and spread across when working in the open using open source techniques. Additionally, troubleshooting existing problems is  easier when using open source solutions, leading to a reduction of frustration from software engineers, causing in turn less turnover.

This same accessibility encourages the sharing of code between different departments, avoiding writing new solutions from scratch to solve similar problems. Different subdivisions are easily able to view others’ work, improving agility and efficiency when working towards shared goals, such as the new plan for digital health and social care.

Digital transformation

Governments worldwide are having to catch up with the pace of technological change and how this affects the provision of their services. In the UK, Government Digital Services (GDS), is responsible for unifying and digitising the government’s online function and provides a perfect case of how effective open source can be incorporated into government services.

Governments worldwide are having to catch up with the pace of technological change

GDS utilised open source technology to launch GOV.UK in 2012, which now hosts over 20,000 websites on one platform. This realised a vision of the government for shared digital systems, in which easy-to-build, user-centric services are available.

GDS required a search service that could run multiple government websites and the GDS itself. It opted to use open source searching tools like OpenSearch, as much of its code was already open source, demonstrating the capacity for open source in government. Now, many branches, such as local councils and fire departments are using managed open source technology, accessing the benefits without additional procurement or information assurance due diligence.

I strongly believe that all software produced by governmental sources should be open source, so taxpayers can examine and inspect how their tax money is spent, this is why I think we should applaud governments like the UK massively adopting open source software.

Open source has proven to be valuable in the public and private sectors alike. The technology has the capacity to increase visibility, meet the demands of developers and provide a smoother platform for digital transformation, which is why it has been so readily adopted by GDS. With the governmental demands for talent retention, departmental alignment and a focussed digital strategy, it will be no surprise to see open source continue to be adopted by the UK government and beyond.

This piece was provided by Josep Prat, Open Source Engineer Manager of Aiven.


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