Open Source Options: Making use of the Cabinet Office guidance on Open Source Software

by Scott Wilson on 27 November 2012 , last updated


The UK Cabinet Office has published Open Source Options as part of its Open Source Procurement Toolkit, providing guidance for the public sector on Open Source Software.

Open Source Options, as the title may suggest, provides information on Open Source alternatives for commonly procured software in the public sector. This covers areas such as operating systems, databases, content management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).

The document has a very good introductory section and notes which set out how it was developed and the context for how it should be read, which at this stage is a number of suggestions for asking better questions of suppliers. It is very important when considering using the OSS Options document to read this material as it makes clear the intended use.

In particular, it must be noted that OSS Options are indicative of software in use, rather than exhaustive, and intended to provoke better dialogue with suppliers rather than to exclude or recommend particular systems.

Using Open Source Options

Open Source Options can be used to:

  • Inform the design of new IT solutions
  • Suggest opportunities for IT service or solution refreshes
  • Challenge a proposed solution that does not use open source technology

Importantly, it is not intended to be a list of pre-approved software

The options can be used both to ensure that open source alternatives are included in evaluation; conversely it can also be used to ensure that common closed-source solutions are also not excluded from consideration.

This can be achieved at the tender stage, by making a reference to Open Source Options in the guidance for suppliers, or at the proposal stage. For example, you may want to ask a supplier to consider using alternative solutions suggested by the options, and provide an alternative architecture and budget illustration.

Note that software license costs are only one consideration when looking at the total cost of ownership of a software solution, so its important to consider the wider impact of switching, such as integration, consultancy and support costs. In some cases there is also impact across the architecture stack - for example, switching server operating system or database has implications for the choice of applications available that depend upon them.

Another useful feature of Open Source Options are the references to real world use; the links to these are worth following as these are typically to articles that provide more context.

Open Source Options for Education?

Open Source Options focusses on common software used as part of solutions in the public sector, and so unsurprisingly the focus is on the most generic types of software and does not cover systems used mainly within individual sectors such as education; there is a section for education and library but is quite minimal, only listing VLEs and library systems.

To fill this gap, OSS Watch have produced a companion list for education, (Open Source Options for Education)7.

Using Open Source Options with the Software Sustainability Maturity Model

The Software Sustainability Maturity Model (SSMM) can be used to formally evaluate both open and closed source software with respect to its sustainability. The model provides a means of estimating the risks associated with adopting a given solution. It is useful for those procuring software solutions for implementation and/or customisation, as well as for reuse in new software products

OSS Options can be used when assessing evidence of sustainability, by suggesting solutions to include for evaluation.

For example, using SSMM you may have narrowed down the field to seven ‘silver candidate’ products. If four of these were already in Open Source Options, you might then only conduct a detailed analysis of the sustainability of the remaining three before promoting products to the next stage.

Open Source Options for Co-creation?

While the focus of the document is on identifying software for procurement, another consideration is adopting open source software as a basis for creating innovative solutions in collaboration, for example in pre-commercial procurement (PCP). In these cases, an important criteria for selection is openness to participation of the project. This is not incorporated into Open Source Options, but can be assessed using the Openness Rating aspect of SSMM.

Further Reading

Related information from OSS Watch: