by Richard Steel

Open sauce

Feb 24, 20095 mins
IT Strategy

I’d planned to spend yesterday and today at the CMA Conference, held at The Congress Centre in Great Russell Street but, for a variety of reasons, didn’t get there until today’s morning coffee break.

There was some work to do on weightings and tolerances for the Microsoft software procurement and in reviewing bids for the GC Benefits Realisation fund, besides which my correspondence backlog had gone over a week again.

Geoff, Richard and I met with Newham’s Head of Procurement to discuss and agree our procurement approach for the NTC network commercialisation. We decided upon a negotiated competition, in preparation for which we’ll develop our market analysis, finalise technical options and advertise for proposals to meet desired outcomes based or sale of lease of network.

At one point yesterday, I found myself talking on the ‘phone to Adrian, who was in a storage room at Socitm’s Northampton offices, surrounded by mounds of reports, minutes and other documentation dating back, probably, to the formation of the Society. Clearly, another project looms; we’ll need to sort-out retention policies and Electronic Document Records management for the Society, but it also occurred to us that we need an Archivist to document Socitm’s history, before disposing of everything.

After having popped-in to a Newham colleague’s Farewell drinks do in Stratford, I went on to The Chemistry Club, at Sartoria. Francis Maude was the speaker.

Today (Wednesday) morning, the oft-postponed GC Benefits Realisation Fund Assessment Teleconference was held. The IDeA did an excellent job in reviewing and documenting the bids, of which there were 193, for our consideration. Six were agreed, unaltered, for funding, and a further four were agreed, but at less than was applied for. It was agreed that a further twelve required further information & evaluation. Forty-six of the bids were for the Libra project (for youth offending – “topped and tailed” for different YOTs). It was also agreed the IDeA should discuss some funding, probably of a pilot.

The Wednesday morning CMA Conference networking break was followed by a session entitled “Real Strategies for “Hyper Connectivity”. I felt like I’d entered a time-warp.

It seemed to me that speakers wanted to hold back the tide; there was a reluctance to recognise that convergence is here; the words said “sweat your assets”, but I was pretty sure they meant “help us to continue to milk our sunk investments, rather than deploying the infrastructure you really need”; technical solutions to managing limited bandwidth to stop users gobbling it for Internet radio were advised, rather than recognising the fundamental cultural and management shift required for anytime, anywhere working enabled by Unified Communications.

Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, spoke a good deal of sense, and clearly knew his subject. I liked his analogy of the Internet as the digital equivalent of previous trade routes.

He did, however, cause some consternation by saying, as part of the answer to a question, that “Nortel had withdrawn as a first tier 2012 sponsor”. After lunch and, I imagine, some feverish checking, it was clarified that this most certainly was not the case!

The session following lunch – “The future… moves changes and opportunities” – was as refreshing as the one before lunch was depressing. Mark Blowers, from Butler Group, did a commendably succinct introduction to the session, comparing our development of network infrastructure to the Winchester Building.

Bob Falconer, CEO of Gamma Telecom, talked about systemic problems in the industry – over-promising, under-delivering, costs of change, back-loaded costs etc, and suggested an alternative approach to procurement, and his company’s white label service.

Stuart Hill, Vice President and Director of BT’s London 2012 delivery programme, gave a truly inspiring presentation about BT’s approach, as the Tier One Telecoms Sponsor. “Reliability ahead of heroes”, “Treat every amber as red”.

Kevin Russell, CEO of “3” Mobile highlighted some of the absurdities in mobile data regulation and pricing, and illustrated the major daily peak in mobile data traffic that’s apparently down to home use.

You may have seen today’s announcement of new Government Policy on Open Source software. A number of journalists have been enquiring after my views!

Well, I’ve had a couple of long days so these aren’t fully thought-through, but my more-or-less “off the cuff” reactions are:

  • Open Standards are definitely required.
  • I don’t like the term “Open Source”. It’s misleading; what many people mean is “anything but Microsoft”; few businesses actually use open source directly – they buy software derived from open source that has been commercially packaged and sold with support, which, in practice, is little different to licensed software.
  • Nevertheless, competition is great for keeping suppliers focussed on delivering customer value, and “Open Source” has certainly played its part.
  • All the same, software is only one part of the Total Cost of Ownership equation; don’t consider it in isolation, but as part of the full TCO and lifecycle costs.
  • “Open Source” software development, in my experience, lags proprietary development by several years. I don’t think we could achieve the anytime, anywhere fixed and mobile infrastructure with tele-presence we require, now, for flexible and new ways of working using only Open Source.
  • I agree with reuse, and it’s a very significant factor in the Microsoft Public Sector software licensing project I’m involved in (and not allowed to talk about).
  • If it works for you – fine. I wouldn’t rule-out so-called “Open Source”; Newham has used it for some applications since the time it did its deal with Microsoft (probably the first UK public sector procurement of Microsoft as a supplier) and continues to do so.