External support for Open Source: key benefits to organisations in the public sector

Post by Mike C Picture of Mike C
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When the Government Digital Service (GDS) was created six years ago, a key focus was the promotion of Open Source software for public sector organisations as a means of avoiding vendor lock-in and reducing licensing costs.

As reported by Public Sector Executive, Open Source was also viewed as an ideal vehicle to bring development skills back in-house. While this was a great approach in theory, it did raise a few issues: Open Source by its nature is flexible and efficient, but that isn’t to say it’s an ‘easy fix’ solution. Proper use of software still requires a great deal of expertise. Of course, some organisations will have IT teams who possess the necessary skills and are comfortable working with Open Source and the ad-hoc support networks associated with the majority of projects. For them, bringing development, support or hosting back ‘in-house’ is wholly achievable.

For others, however, working with Open Source systems isn’t so straightforward and can often lead to abandonment of the software altogether (sometimes before a project has even started!). There are the decision makers who perceive Open Source software as ‘user-friendly’ and expect council IT teams to just adapt and perform. The problem here is, by expecting staff less experienced in Open Source to work with the software, organisations are  introducing a greater risk of poor performance, underuse of system features and prolonged downtime.  Indeed, true open source expertise is in high demand - as discussed in this article from The Inquirer,

some 87% of hiring managers find it difficult to find Open Source talent

At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who, completely aware of their lack of expertise in the Open Source, will become somewhat spooked and dismiss the idea of using the software outright. As Public Sector Executive explains,

bringing development skills in-house is still a financial challenge for many government bodies, whilst the time and effort required to recruit and train new staff, renegotiate contracts and adopt new skills can meet the usual barriers experienced by any business faced with change

So what’s the key to ensuring public sector organisations are able to adopt and optimise their use of Open Source? Given that one of the main drivers behind the government’s promotion of Open Source was to eliminate vendor lock-in, it may seem counter-intuitive to consider outsourcing. In reality however, partnering with Open Source experts isn’t the same as vendor lock-in. On the contrary, enlisting an outside company to help monitor, manage and maintain your system can be a more practical and cost-effective approach.

Whether used to complement an in-house team or take on full responsibility for site development and maintenance, here are just a few of the key advantages organisations can gain by enlisting an outside agency to help with Open Source implementation:

Access to a rich pool of knowledge

Open Source software continues to evolve at a rapid pace, with re-usable content constantly being generated. By engaging with an external agency (even just at a consultation level), IT teams are given access to the vast amount of knowledge that has been contributed back to the community.  Agencies (such as Ixis) are here to share best practices, module knowledge and architecture design. External developers can also offer advice and assistance on installation, upgrading and theme building for projects.

Rapid deployment of projects

A key benefit of enlisting the help of an external Open Source development team is the ability to do so on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis. This can be particularly helpful when public sector bodies are under pressure to complete required work within a strict timeframe. (For example, setting up online self-service portals for September school admissions). Such projects can be outsourced to maximise efficiency and make work-loads more manageable.

Safeguarding against risk

Often, where in-house teams have successfully built a website, it’s still beneficial to bring in an external agency to perform a health check / site audit, particularly if users have reported slow page loading or temperamental functionality. Experts can check websites and servers for out-of-date modules and analyse any installed module code for common security vulnerabilities.

Cost savings

Bringing web development in-house is often perceived as the cheaper option but this isn’t always the case. For teams lacking in Open Source expertise, the necessary recruitment and/or training can often prove costly. Enlisting the help of an external agency however offers more control over spending; resources can be brought in for one-off projects or for short sprints, without the commitment to long-term financial outlay.

Our Service

At Ixis we've provided assistance to many organisations using different models of support - covering wholly outsourced end-to-end development projects, technical partnership in digital transformation, and advisory or joining larger development teams bringing our skills and experience onboard.

We're flexible and can accommodate clients needs - the first step is getting in touch to discuss your requirement.


Mike C

Managing Director

17 years of Drupal development wrangling and a background in digital project architecture.

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