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Democratizing Softwares: Bristol City Council’s Open Source Strategy Success Story

Last week I wrote about how “What Open Source & Open Standards means to Government and citizens” in response to the open standards consultation that is currently running until the end of April 2012.

This time I’m going to bring to you one of those rare but truly inspiring case studies for open source in government in this country.

Implementation of a council wide open source strategy

Did you know that Bristol City Council has implemented a council wide open source strategy? Its astounding to know that in the midst of all the open standards roundtables and the consultation running, there is one council that has already managed to take on Microsoft and win.

If I wasn’t working at Zaizi (Bristol CC is Zaizi’s customer), I wouldn’t have known about Bristol City Council‘s success in implementing open source and levelling the playing field for SMEs and open source. It is a great example of how we can get other councils and government agencies to get on the open source wagon.

An official statement by Bristol City Council Leader Barbara Janke said:

Bristol is leading the way on promoting open source solutions and supporting our strong creative media and digital sector. We held a very productive meeting with the Cabinet Office yesterday, and they were able to reassure us that there are no security or accreditation issues that should hold us back from pushing ahead with our open source agenda.

This is very good news and was warmly welcomed by the IT companies present. Our aim is to do all we can to see a higher proportion of money from our IT procurement ending up in the local economy and supporting the city’s innovative software companies.

We have now been given the green light by the Cabinet Office to push ahead with this open source agenda and they have promised to work closely with us on this issue over the next few months, and more widely in our efforts to support our thriving creative and digital sector as we develop the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.

Learning by sharing

As I personally have only been working with Zaizifor only a few months now, I’ve been trying to get up to speed with how Bristol City Council has implemented a council wide open source strategy and how other local councils and government agencies can learn from them.

Why is open source important to us as citizens

For those still wondering why open source is important for us as citizens, just think of this scenario Dr. Mark Wright(Cllr in Bristol) has described and think about why open source would matter to you, or more importantly, think about how your tax is being spent! 😉

“Imagine a car manufacturer, who would be trying to sell you a car and when they sell you this car, they tell you, “Oh by the way, we’re not going to tell you what’s in the car. We’re not going to tell you what its made of. Or what components are in it. We’re not going to let you look under the bonet. We’re not really bothered to fix things. If you find that something goes wrong, we might try to fix your car but probably you’ll have to wait until we bring out a new car and then you’ll have to buy that car.

And if you car doesn’t do exactly what you thought, then that’s you’re fault really. Its not our fault. I think if a car manufacturer would do that to you, you would stick to fingers up to them and you’d go elsewhere and you’d either buy a bike or start catching the bus.

The sad truth about this analogy is, in the software world, this is normal. That’s the way it is. That’s the way its been for decades. And there is a real problem of liberty there. The software world is sort of a lockdown world, which is stifling the liberty of users in that area and to me open source is a key way out of that. Open source is a way back into what I would call ‘the real world’. The way things are done back in the real world. You know if you buy something, you know how it works and to fiddle with it and change it, make it better, make it different. Its entirely up to you. That’s the way things are in the real world and that’s how the software world should be.”

So if you live and breathe in the real world, surely you would understand why open source makes sense, especially in this economy. See the video below to hear Dr Mark Wright talk about Bristol’s journey.

Bristol CC’s journey – leading the open source path for all of us

To get a feel of what Bristol CC have had to go through to get to this point, check out these articles and the timeline of events. Bare in mind, some of what is being written does not come directly from Bristol CC officially.

September 2010

November 2010

June 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

So as you can see, as any road that leads to a rewarding outcome, it wasn’t easy nor without criticism and pessimism. But Bristol CC got there in the end. And I personally feel that they have earned a lot of respect for paving the way for the rest of us.

What open source Bristol CC were using and planning to use as of 26th July 2011

Thanks to the useful website WhatDoTheyKnow.com, we also now know have a copy of an FOI request that can tell us just how committed Bristol CC was to open source as of 26th July 2011.

The FOI asked the following questions: –

1. What is the current written council policy on the use of open source software?

2. What open source software packages are currently being used by Bristol City Council?

3. What are the council’s future plans for increasing the deployment and use of open source software?

And the answer given is below

Open Source Software “packages” in use by Bristol City Council include:

  1. Red Hat Linux
  2. CentOS Linux
  3. Apache web server
  4. Squid proxy
  5. MySQL
  6. PostgreSQL
  7. APLAWS WCM (being replaced by Drupal WCM)
  8. NetBeans IDE (likely to be replaced by Eclipse IDE)
  9. Nagios
  10. Firefox
  11. Chrome

OSS experts will understand that many of these products/distributions
contain a very large number of “packages”, as OSS products are usually
built from many other OSS elements.

Our future plans are to implement the OSS procurement policy in all
evaluation and selection processes. In concrete terms this includes:

a) EDRM & Team Collaboration – we are actively considering products from
Alfresco and Nuxeo

b) Business Intelligence and Data Warehouse – we will consider products
from Pentaho, Jaspersoft, and Talend

c) Identity & Access Management – we will consider options including
OpenAM, OpenIDM and OpenDJ

d) Online services – we will consider Liferay portal in conjunction with

How did they do it?

Some of you who are keen to know more about how to implement open source where you work, you might be interested to see these documents: –

  1. Bristol City Council Business Case
  2. Open Source Procurement Toolkit
Here’s some interesting snippets of the Business Case that you might want to consider in yours.
The Case for Change

the case for change, considering a range of issues related to three major goals of office software migration:

  • Cost reduction
  • Simplified and cheaper purchasing, licence and budget management
    • Easier data sharing within the Council and with external organisations
    • Easier support and deployment through managed software installation and upgrades
    • Improved productivity through targeted training and common knowledge
  • Improved functionality, such as better integration with business systems
  • Open standards, including file formats that enable open access to and re-use of data

Cost for change

  • You need to assess the cost for your organisation in the areas of:
    • Decision Making Processes
    • Project Management
    • Communications
    • Training – Technical and User
    • Deployment and System Testing
    • Desktop Computer Hardware Upgrades
    • Document Conversion and System Integration – including databases and macros
    • Implementation Support
    • Productivity Gains or Losses
    • Functionality Gains or LossesMigration costs are broadly similar for proprietary or Open Source office software.

Bristol is also offering Council officers the opportunity to visit Bristol, meet the implementation team, ask questions about the challenges faced and solutions we have developed, and hear from users who have been through the migration to StarOffice.

They are also working in collaboration with other Open Source Academypartners to encourage Local Government software vendors to improve their support for Open Standards and Open Source products, including the practical development of integration with StarOffice/OpenOffice.org

Dispelling the myths

For some of us, open source is something completely new and it can be daunting. Just like social media, we went from not knowing, to fearing it, to being fearless and giving it a go, then embracing it and pushing communication and citizen digital engagement boundaries to achieve wonderful things.

So let’s air out the myths and get down to the facts.

Open Source Myths

  • Open Source is less secure.
  • It is not possible to cost an Open Source Solution.
  • Open Source isn’t licensed
  • Open Source is just the latest fad

If you have ever thought of these reasons for not adopting Open Source, then think again. Because all those statements are FALSE! Take a look here to find out why.

What we need government to say

“We need all public sector document must be exchanged in an open document format (ODF)”

Democratizing software

There’s a lot to be said about democratizing softwares, but I’ll sum it up below!

What does open source mean? What are the benefits?

According to the Deputy CIO of Denver City and County Council in the US, here are the benefits of open source for government.

  • The huge user community = Society
  • The ability to share code = Voice your opinion
  • The ability to contribute = Vote
  • The ability to get people excited about being able to learn something new and contribute = Democratic Society

Sounds a lot like democracy doesn’t it? Why? Because its all about democratizing our softwares and getting real value for our money as citizens. Find out more in the video below.

Proud of Bristol City Council

We’re proud that Bristol is leading the way for open source in government. Zaiziis working hard with BCC’s to roll out eletronic document and records management to automate their business process and reduce paper. And most importantly, Zaizi delivers open source solutions to its customers. So its a perfect match!

With that, I would like to call upon everyone again to answer the Open Standards Consultation, as I’ve said before and many others before me, RESPOND TO THE OPEN STANDARDS CONSULTATION BEFORE THE END OF APRIL!

  1. Respond to the consultation — made even easier by this response form developed by Ric Harvey
  2. Attend the events — these seem pretty full now, but try to get in if you can
  3. Spread the message — blog and tweet and write to raise awareness of the importance and impact that this consultation could have
  4. Attend the Open Gov Summit 2012 in London
Hope this was useful!

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Chris Cairns

By the way, is there any hard data that quantifies the benefits of open source over proprietary software? It would be great to see the actuals as a result of the the open-source stack policy.