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  • What the public sector can learn from open source disruptive brands

The rate of innovation in digital seems ever growing in pace. In the past 5 years alone we’ve seen Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon Prime, and click and collect become ubiquitous across our cities. Introducing frictionless payment and rapid access to goods and services, these disruptive startups and technologies continue to raise consumer expectations.

According to Mastercard’s Digital Evolution Index 2017 Singapore, UK, New Zealand, and UAE are amongst the World’s Stand Out Digital Economies. Those Included are countries that demonstrate high levels of digital development while continuing to lead in innovation and new growth.

Despite this backdrop, the government and public sector seem less and less capable of doing what people want. Research by Dr Mark Thompson, Cambridge Judge Business School, concluded that whilst they all deliver the same services, duplication effort levels are excessively high.

“Local authorities exhibit some of the highest levels of duplication in government”.

 Dr Mark Thompson, Cambridge Judge Business School


Is your organisation any different? There exists a huge opportunity here to rethink how digital services are procured and delivered, which will ultimately allow organisations to deliver better services despite shrinking budgets.


Your secret to an ever-expanding digital capability

Look under the hood of most of today’s successful digital enterprises like Facebook, Apple, Uber, Amazon, Tesla and you will find a common theme. They are all actively participating in the open source movement.

In 2014 Elon Musk did what to traditional enterprise would be corporate suicide. He removed all patents saying “Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal”. In doing so Tesla cleared a path for peers to evaluate, experiment, test and improve Tesla’s technologies. This is what open source is all about.

Last week Xiaopeng Motors announced a Tesla-inspired SUV which achieves a 186-mile range. Elon Musk knew that with a global fleet of 2 billion cars, Tesla could not supply the whole market alone. Rather than competing, Xiaopeng are helping Tesla achieve their goal to migrate consumers to electric vehicles.

The business case for open source is even more compelling for the public sector. By collaborating across traditional organisational boundaries, working between departments, sector peers, and even across the globe, we can overcome common challenges and use budgets more wisely to deliver better services and outcomes to citizens.

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A cross-departmental approach to open source.

The founders of Open Charity recognised that “Many charities’ goals are similar, as is the functionality we require, but little shared working takes place”. Now charities like Great Ormond Street Hospital, Comic Relief, and Cancer Research are driving shared areas of interest and influencing open source developments to bring efficiencies, improve the digital experience for our users, and have great impact.

NHS Digital recognises the benefits of open source and has launched an open source API lab, an approach peers should mimic. Exposing datasets creates for efficiency gains, new insights, and research opportunities.

Full open sourcing may not be the first or easiest route to accelerating innovation. InnerSource is the name given to a development approach that applies open source software practices within your organisation alone by sharing between departments or across the organisation.

It's important to recognise that Inner Sourcing is not confined to code. It can be applied to processes, knowledge and even best practice. Shared learnings from accessibility, user-centered design, and GDPR are just some examples of how the approach could be adopted.


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Dries Buytaert speaking about opensource at Drupalcon Barcelona. Photo Credit: Steffen Ruhlmann


Realising the benefits of open source

Working with Greater London Authority we have applied inner source, harmonising multiple satellite microsites onto the main london.gov.uk site. The digital estate was audited to identify duplicate or similar features and functionalities. Moving towards a library of common features, reducing the lines of code to be supported, allows for more feature rich solutions to be created. This approach has enabled Greater London Authority to assemble better services faster and more cost-effectively.

“Open source software like Drupal strips away barriers to innovative development.” 

David Munn, Head of Information Technology at Greater London Authority


Indeed because GLA have chosen the open source content management system Drupal, innovations are available for free and sometimes from unexpected places. In September 2017, the Digital Services Georgia team launched an Alexa skill called Ask GeorgiaGov. By allowing the public to explore popular topics through a voice interface, Ask Georgia is meeting public expectation for swift and convenient access to public information. The software enabling this functionality is open sourced and freely available.

With an ever-changing landscape of shrinking budgets, politics, government digital policy, citizens expectations, new technologies like these chatbots/voice interfaces, the rise of devices, and the internet of things, the public sector needs to embrace the open source collaborative mindset.

As a business founded on open source software and principles, we'd love to hear from you if you’d like to learn more about how you can realise the potential benefits for your business.


The Digital Transformation of London.gov.uk

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