JISC Services Case Study - OSS Watch in the FE Sector

by JISC on 1 September 2009, last updated

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Introduction

This case study was written by JISC and was first published on their website. It is one of a series written by JISC to demonstrate the expertise and benefits available to learning providers in the FE sector. OSS Watch provides additional services for those producing software.

Open source software is used increasingly throughout both the public and private sector because of the potential it presents to reduce costs, share new developments and share support. However, there are many pitfalls in the use of open source software and it is here that the role of OSS Watch is invaluable.

Opening the door

OSS Watch provides unbiased advice and guidance on the use, development and licensing of free and open source software with services that are available free-of-charge to UK Higher and Further Education. For example, OSS Watch provides detailed legal, procurement and engagement advice and support, and is currently examining how the supply and use of open source software can be made sustainable. So, if you want to find out anything about open source software, these are the people to ask.

About OSS Watch

OSS Watch was set up in 2003 at a time when there was very little understanding in the UK academic community about what open source is and how it could be used effectively. The initial remit of OSS Watch was to examine the implications of open source software and to make recommendations on how the sector could benefit from it. Over the years the focus has moved from creating a base level of understanding to providing detailed legal, procurement and engagement advice and support. A current emphasis is on how the use of open source software can be sustained, with a particular focus on the business models of suppliers to ensure that open source software remains available and supported.

Consequently OSS Watch can help FE providers make informed decisions about the procurement and use of open source software. This includes getting the best value for money and ensuring effective implementation and support.

Other benefits of the OSS Watch services include:

  • reduction in the cost of software acquisition, implementation and maintenance
  • ensuring interoperability between systems and applications
  • maximising the chance of sustainability
  • advising on adaptability of software
  • reduced exposure to supplier performance and viability All this contributes to reducing the risks inherent in any software acquisition.

Impact on learning providers

Open source software is becoming increasingly important to the academic community because of its potential to provide significant savings in licensing and other costs, and an OSS Watch survey of Higher and Further Education showed an increasing trend towards open source on both servers and desktops.

However, open source software is never free; there are always costs in areas such as procurement, implementation, staff training and maintenance. In addition there are often misconceptions about licence terms, ownership, copyright, IPR, exploitation rights, commercialisation etc., which can have major implications. Dealing with these requires knowledge, planning and investment.

Generally the legal issues around open source software are not complex but they do need to be understood. Unfortunately there is a considerable amount of poor quality, biased or inaccurate information available and it is here that OSS Watch is so valuable with the ability to provide independent but authoritative advice.

OSS Watch has been helping Higher Education for some time but, until recently, has had little experience of supporting Further Education where the problems and potential pitfalls are at least as great.

Through the JISC Regional Support Centres OSS Watch can provide training in all aspects of open source, for example working with legal and technical teams to help them understand the implications of adopting open source solutions. This can lead to the development of informed and competent staff who can ensure that their institutions gain the maximum benefit from open source solutions.

Not all open source is viable, just as not all closed source is viable. OSS Watch is here to help you understand what makes an open source project successful so that you can make informed decisions about your engagement with open source projects and companies.

– Ross Gardler (OSS Watch)

Key messages

  • Open source software is used increasingly because of the potential to reduce costs, share new developments and share support. However, there are many pitfalls in the use of open source software and it is here that OSS Watch plays a role with services that are available free-of-charge to UK Higher and Further Education.
  • OSS Watch provides unbiased advice and guidance on the use, development and licensing of free and open source software.

Open source is a way of developing software that produces enterprise grade software through a process of transparent distributed peer review.

– Ross Gardler (OSS Watch)

Further Reading

Links:

Related information from OSS Watch:

This document is © The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), on behalf of JISC 2009.