by Edward Qualtrough

Open source and Internet of Things can save public sector millions

Nov 23, 20143 mins
GovernmentIT LeadershipIT Strategy

Open source software and the Internet of Things are two of the disruptive approaches which can save the public sector during the government’s austerity measures and lay the ground to deliver next generation digital services, Camden Council CIO John Jackson believes.

Local government organisations are approaching a critical tipping point which could save the public sector and the taxpayer billions, Jackson said when he spoke at the Open Source, the Cloud and your Business event hosted by Paolo Vecchi, the CEO of open source and Linux distribution specialists Omnis Systems.

Camden has to save £150 million between 2012 and 2018 from its bottom line while at the same time delivering fundamental transformation to tackle inequality, foster economic growth and deliver citizen centric services, Jackson explained as he outlined the council’s challenges.

“There’s a huge opportunity in government for innovation, putting citizens at the heart, cutting costs and doing things differently,” Jackson said.

“But the problem is we don’t have lots of money – we can’t afford the largess of the past, in the future.

“Our existing apps are largely proprietary; there’s a disproportionately small number of large vendors dominating the market, and no real open source advocates in government.

“There’s lots of cynicism around open source and the art of the possible, particularly in the CIO community who want to buy things off the shelf and are too worried about security.”

Disrupting the vendor market

Jackson said that local government CIOs need to disrupt the UK software and services market, and instead of getting shaped by products, shape the tools themselves so they are useful for the public sector.

“Collective interventions are shaping the market,” Jackson said. “We are seeing a change of behaviour in some of the big vendors so they deliver solutions we need for digital innovation, rather than flogging us standard products that don’t deliver.

“Why should government be locked into a proprietary software model designed for a different era?

“We need to harness the potential of open source. Don’t outsource IT, crowdsource it,” Jackson urged.

Internet of Things

Jackson also espoused the opportunities to reimagining government driven by the Internet of Things. The CIO of Camden highlighted the borough’s Big Belly Bins, a waste management system with solar panels and a chip so bin collectors knew when the refuse was full, toilet flushing services in homes which can reveal important information about a person’s health by the frequency of their visits to the bathroom, and smart parking bays as a method of law enforcement, which can also be tied into a mobile app to show drivers where parking spaces are.

With local authorities spending £2.5 billion a year on ICT – £1 billion of which goes on software applications – IoT offers a huge opportunity for the public sector to save money while massively increasing digital engagement with citizens.

While IoT and open source software offer a part of the solution, Jackson said that a cultural shift to a more open and collaborative way of local government organisations communicating will help the public sector.

Jackson said: “Let’s open source our apps and harness the power of the crowd. But this is fundamentally a move around collaboration.

“It makes absolute sense for us to share code; of course collaboration is better than paying for the same thing many times over.

“We need to redefine the market by disrupting medieval markets, we need to challenge the doom and gloom merchants, , and it’s important for CIOs to stand up to that and to be resilient,” Jackson added.