March 14, 2005

UK Open Source Consortium bids for greatness

Author: Tina Gasperson

The United Kingdom's Open Source Consortium is now offering a free help service for individuals and businesses in Western Europe. It's aimed at entities interested in learning more about open source technology, but unsure how to go about it. Mark Taylor, the executive director of the consortium, says he hopes that the consortium will become the "first port of call" for anyone seeking an introduction to open source technology.Taylor says response to the service has come mostly from the consortium's "raison d'etre," UK's public sector interests.

The consortium is a group of about 60 member companies who are joining forces in order to become a stronger force when bidding on government and public-sector tech projects in the United Kingdom. "We're going for public-sector work, and we found that we could go to a certain point in the process and then no further," Taylor says. His open source solutions and consulting company has gone head-to-head with tech giants like IBM in bidding on government projects like a recent proposal for the Nottingham County Council, but he's found there's "an invisible line in the sand."

So Taylor sat down with some local council decision-makers and had some conversations about what it would take to win some business with the government. As a result of those discussions he and some colleagues decided that an alliance of United Kingdom free/libre/open source software businesses could be the key that would unlock the storehouse of work in the public sector.

So far, Taylor says, the consortium has brought together more than 90% of the open source companies in the UK. One of the ways the Open Source Consortium is better than other bidding companies, according to Taylor, is that it is not vendor-specific and can supply solutions based on best quality and lowest cost factors.

The consortium functions in three ways. First, it constitutes something Taylor calls an "internal market." Public sector bodies "get access to all the free software companies" involved in the consortium, which is easier than tracking down individual entities. Second, it offers mini-consortiums. "For the larger projects we can put together a grouping of five, ten, whatever, with specific skills to operate as a mini-consortium." And lastly, says Taylor, it can provide a large forum. "We can tender for the largest projects by drawing from hundreds of experts."

Taylor says the consortium has plans to cooperate with other open source bodies around the world, and has already formed ties with the Open Source Software Institute and the Open Standards Alliance in the U.S., as well as the Open Forum Europe. "We're talking with quite a few European Union companies with the intention that it will lead to a European consortium," Taylor says.

"It is widely believed that the United Kingdom is behind the European Union in open source deployments," Taylor says. "But we've got a lot more going on in the public sector than they do."


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