Open Source for UK Public Administrations


Public administrations in the United Kingdom are to prefer open source software over proprietary alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, web servers, databases and programming languages. The choice for this type of ICT solution is part of the ‘Government Service Design Manual’ which is effective from April 2013.

“Free and open source software has architectural benefits over closed source alternatives”, the manual outlines. Perceived benefits include being able to cooperate with others and avoiding IT vendor lock-in. This indicates that Government not only wants the country’s public administrations to switch to using open source, but also to develop this kind of ICT solutions. The Design Manual advises to “provide developers with ready access to open source development tools with which they will be familiar so they may be productive immediately.” The UK government also wants public administrations to contribute to open source projects, advising to “take every opportunity to contribute back to open source projects you use.”

The government’s chief technology officer, Liam Maxwell, is quoted, “In digital public services, open source software is clearly the way forward”. Computer Weekly, an IT trade publication, writes “Government IT reformers in the Cabinet Office have worked to introduce a level playing field for open source against proprietary software product. But this is the first time that government IT policy has gone as far as expressing a formal preference to use open source.”

From the ‘Open Source’ section of the manual:

“Use open source software in preference to proprietary or closed source alternatives, in particular for operating systems, networking software, Web servers, databases and programming languages. Problems which are rare, or specific to a domain, may be best answered by using software as a service, or by installing proprietary software.  In such cases, take care to mitigate the risk of lock-in to a single supplier by ensuring open standards are available, in particular for data portability, and interfaces used for integration with other systems.”

Compass Informatics Ltd, with offices in Dublin, Ireland, and London, fully supports open source software in many of its products, services and applications, as well as providing expertise in cross-platform development, incorporating both open source and proprietary software, especially in the geospatial information sector, using SQL Server, .Net coding, and both open source and proprietary GIS components. An excellent example is the Compass-developed Pavement Management System now widely used across Irish local government agencies.

Useful Links:

  • Learn more about Compass Informatics ICT services and products here.
  • To find out more about what is happening at European level, visit the European Commission’s JoinUp web site here.
  • Access the UK Government Service Design Manual here.
  • Access Service Design Manual section on Open Source here.
  • Join the EC’s collaborative platforms in the areas of Open Source & Semantic Interoperability on Joinup here.
  • ISA is a programme based on a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council and is led bythe EC’s DG Informatics (DIGIT). ISA contributes to the Digital Agenda and eGovernment Action Plan, implementing the European Interoperability Strategy (EIS) while applying the European Interoperability Framework (EIF). It has a budget for 2010-2015 of 164 million euro. Learn more about ISA here.