Will the Tories really turn the public sector open source?

I’ve heard of small government, but are the Tories really serious about open source and public sector procurement?

I’d love to have heard what shadow chancellor George Osbourne really thought when the IT procurement report he commissioned landed on his desk.

Few would object to the government requiring the use of open standards, but any move to mandate open source or to limit the size of public sector procurements to projects of around £100m would run into massive opposition from vested interests.

Perhaps that is why he said, “Before we take these ideas forward – we want to hear your views. After all, being open to new ideas is what open source is all about.”

There certainly is a case for smaller, more agile IT projects, but what about re-platforming social security or tax systems? There is likely to be plenty of scope for big projects and big failures in future….

Whatever happens though, government IT can’t go on as it has, and the fact that politicians want a debate on IT, rather than boasting, like Tony Blair used to do, about their technological incompetence, is welcome.

Certainly the Tories couldn’t have picked a better day to push out their report. The latest Public Accounts Committee publication on health service IT paints a picture as bad as even the most pessimistic of us feared it would be, when the project was launched.

If anywhere calls out for a standards-based approach to IT, it is the NHS, and that was the way it was going until the government was persuaded of the need for yet another “grand project,” back in 2002. The result has been a disaster for the NHS and pretty bad news for the companies that won the contracts to provide services.

When in 2006 Accenture took a £300m hit on its balance sheet to walk away from its NHS contracts, it didn’t take a genius to know worse was to come.

The focus on government has dampened down some of the furore that might be expected over the latest data debacle – at job site Monster, where up to 4.5 million personal records could have been stolen.

Then there is the Pope’s PewTube. From the sublime to the ridiculous.


Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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