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Open Source 'Wasn't Available' Two Years Ago, Says UK Gov't IT Project Chief 113

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-blame-time-travel dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The head of delivery for the UK's Department for Work and Pensions' flagship welfare reform project, Universal Credit, has said that the department didn't adopt open source and web-based technologies at the beginning of the project because 'such things weren't available' two and a half years ago. Howard Shiplee told the Work and Pensions Committee this week that the department is now using open source technologies in its enhanced version of Universal Credit, which was initially developed by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and will be rolled out nationally by 2017 for most claimants. The existing system being used in pathfinder pilots and developed by the likes of IBM, HP and Accenture will be largely be replaced by the digital version."
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Open Source 'Wasn't Available' Two Years Ago, Says UK Gov't IT Project Chief

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  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @04:51PM (#45654439) Homepage

    The head of delivery for the UK's Department for Work and Pensions' flagship welfare reform project, Universal Credit, has said that the department didn't adopt open source and web-based technologies at the beginning of the project because 'such things weren't available' two and a half years ago.

    Then either they needed something highly specific, or this guy isn't qualified to evaluate technology.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Nerdfest (867930) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @04:54PM (#45654479)

      I was wondering myself, incompetent or corrupt? I do see IBM involved, so it could be both.

      • by Cryacin (657549) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @05:02PM (#45654591)

        Shiplee said: “Technology is moving very rapidly, such things weren’t available as they are today.”

        If you actually read the contents of the article, it seems that Howard Shiplee was taken out of context. (Say it aint so)

        It seems to me that lots and lots of small components were available for the final software product, but due to the complexities of navigating a large bureaucracy, larger systems that closely fit the requirements were needed. At the end of the day, it's just boxes on a piece of paper to an architectural "expert" somewhere. At the end of the day, it's all about risk, and how that risk is managed. The usual trick for middle management to keep their jobs, is to get the risk exported.

        “You would find it very hard to find vendors in the market place to do this work at full risk. So the department took up the risk.”

        Anyone who understands the concept that an entity, both corporate or government can't export risk is deserving of respect. Sure, you can have contracts with vendors that give guaranteed SLA's, but at the end of the day, if a government service goes down, and there's a 100% risk export, for sure when the media gets to it, "IBM messed up, it's not our fault!" simply doesn't cut it. A ton of mud will still stick to those who are beholden to the responsibility of a service that they provide.

        Even financially, the risk that is exported is only ever as good as the other companies working capital and professional indemnity insurance.

        • by g0bshiTe (596213) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @05:06PM (#45654643)
          Yep, I admit when I read the summary headline I about ROFL'd and had to check my calendar to make sure I didn't hibernate and wake up on 1 April.

          FTFA it appears to be a specific mechanism for pooling their data, not OpenSource itself just there was no opensource solution at the time.
        • by whoever57 (658626)

          At the end of the day, it's all about risk, and how that risk is managed. The usual trick for middle management to keep their jobs, is to get the risk exported.

          We are talking about British civil servants here. The risk that they would lose their jobs over a screwup can be approximated to zero.

      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by exomondo (1725132) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @06:16PM (#45655487)

        I was wondering myself, incompetent or corrupt?

        You mean the author of the article right?

        • Soulskill.

          "Such things" refers to "open source and mechanisms on the web to store and access data", which, unless I'm shit-eatingly retarded, means the specific things they needed to implement this.

          The initial release of Azure was 3 years ago, and AWS was a novelty until just a bit before then. Neither one would have been even considered as a web storage solution two and a half years ago. And "open source" very specifically means things that would take certain inputs and give certain outputs, which if I w

      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @08:07PM (#45656261)
        I was in a meeting recently where an IBM engineer assured us that we shouldn't use an open source solution because it would "lock us into one technology". Then in the very next sentence he described the IBM product that would do essentially the same thing as the open source software. Everyone in the room had that WTF? expression.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The Minister in charge is a fuckwit, he was such a success as an army officer he was returned to unit. Failed leader of the conservative party.

        The only interesting thing about him is what does he have on Cameron and Osborne etc that they dont dare sack him.

        • by bfandreas (603438)
          Name one current UK Minister who isn't a fuckwit. They've turned the whole thing into amateur hour with badly thought-out campaigns and policies. While everybody else seems to be equally incompetent they do at least seem to be afflicted by something with the semblance of a concsience.

          The current administration should spend less time worrying about brown people and Bulgarians(read: lose votes to UKIP) and do their fucking jobs. The latest embarrassment was David Cameron turning up at Nelson Mandela's funer
    • Given his title - the latter...,

    • Agreed. I've been using linux since 1998, and I'm still a noob compared to many here.
      • by gbjbaanb (229885)

        and you'll remain a n00b until you learn to look beyond the headline and (here, the summary) and read what was actually said and apply some critical thinking and comprehension to it.

        FYI, he didn't say "there was no such thing as open source", he said "there was no open source component that did what we needed".

        • The summary also completely fails to mention what the hell kind of software he was looking for.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            From my experience, they needed middleware to sit between two propietary systems that are closed source, with cross licensing so that any open source solution would be illegal (or practically impossible). The "solution" would be replacing one (or both) of the systems being connected. Sounds like that was the solution in this case.
            • by jedidiah (1196)

              There's no good reason Free Software can't connect two proprietary systems. Chances are the two payware systems aren't terribly cooperative with to begin with.

              • by bfandreas (603438)
                There's a little bit more to it. The business requirements for gov contracts tend to be massively convoluted and a moving target. Our beloved legislative doesn't care for consistency and each rule is nothing but a series of exceptions. So this introduces a whole lot of risk into projects like these. Just look at what happened to the website for the Affordable Care Act. Negotiations up to the very end. Gov customers are very much special needs customers and they know it.

                So enter the marketdroids and sales
              • by AK Marc (707885)
                APIs have been patented before to prevent 3rd parties from interoperating. I've seen proprietary software that was made deliberately troublesome to push professional services income.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      > Then either they needed something highly specific.

      My guess is: a non-functional, extremely expensive closed-source product offered by a good friend

    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @05:01PM (#45654565)

      You gotta understand, to a lot of stuffed shirt types Microsoft *is* (or at least was) all of I.T. It's because there idiots listen to the loudest marketing department, and FOSS doesn't really have one by design.

      Where I work we're dealing with same thing because of our MBA shit leadership. They firmly believe that the more money paid the better the software, meaning our "enterprise" labors under super-expensive and horrible software.

      • If the company you work for uses technology and sales something more mundane then chances are they are going to buy commercial w/support contract before they move into developing a FOSS solution that can meet their needs {even if there is a solution that meets their needs they may overlook it if there is not a way to get a BIG support contract}. A technical company would be more likely to use FOSS and contribute back to FOSS.

      • by LoRdTAW (99712)

        I had a manager who told me he wished Microsoft made all of the software we used. In his eyes the interoperability between excel, word, powerpoint outlook etc. made his life so much easier. He even wished our ERP software was MS made.

        Some people just dont know any better and sadly, they get to make the decisions about where the money goes.

        • by tubs (143128)

          There are words for this as well :homogeneous and heterogeneous.

          And in their simplest forms... homogeneous simplifies commications, with the negative of locking you into one system. Heterogeneous makes it easier pick and choose "best" for each job, but you spend as much on effective interoperability as on each part of the system.

        • Well, actually there are far worse ERPs out there than Dynamix Nav.

      • by gravis777 (123605)

        This is just a badly designed business model. The most successful companies I have worked for have managers and VPs who have risen through their IT departments and know how things work. They are the best at understanding the ups and downs of workloads, so understand the concept of having periods of down time, they understand the concept of on-call and will work to either try to minimize how often a person is on-call or try to work in some kind of compensation, they understand technologies and actually liste

    • Well I think it might be more based on the Web Technology available.
      2 years ago, HTML 5 was quite new and the browser support was kinda spotty, so if you were to make rich web applications you needed stuff like Flash, to get the similar effect.

      That said, there is still a boat load of Rich Web stuff you could have done with HTML 4 and CSS/Javascript. However you spent more time figuring out how to do a little trick then actually working on your app.

    • by mlts (1038732) *

      I wonder if it might have been a corporate or governmental regulation. I know in some environments, if the OS doesn't have FIPS, Common Criteria, or other certifications, there will be Hell to pay come audit time.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @05:30PM (#45654939) Journal

      Or it was a terrible misquote of him in the slashdot summary.

      His real quote was

      “The current system for Universal Credit is a conventional system being developed on a waterfall approach. When you look at digital [the enhanced system], it’s very different – it relies not on large amounts of tin, black boxes, but uses open source and mechanisms on the web to store and access data,” Shiplee told MPs.

      When asked why he didn’t adopt this approach two and a half years ago at the start of the project, Shiplee said: “Technology is moving very rapidly, such things weren’t available as they are today.”

      So he might not have meant that opensource wasn't availible, but that the" mechanisims on the web to store and access data" weren't *as* available as they are today. Without knowing what technologies he's using, he could be right. They might not have existed, or have been as mature as they are now.

    • by exomondo (1725132)

      Then either they needed something highly specific, or this guy isn't qualified to evaluate technology.

      The third and most probable explanation is that the quote was taken out of context. Even without reading the article this sort of flamebait is common enough for that to be the default explanation: "oh look, government incompetence...they didn't even know about open source"

      • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Informative)

        by exomondo (1725132) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @06:15PM (#45655481)
        And of course yes, upon reading the article that is exactly the case:

        “The current system for Universal Credit is a conventional system being developed on a waterfall approach. When you look at digital [the enhanced system], it’s very different – it relies not on large amounts of tin, black boxes, but uses open source and mechanisms on the web to store and access data,” Shiplee told MPs.

        When asked why he didn’t adopt this approach two and a half years ago at the start of the project, Shiplee said: “Technology is moving very rapidly, such things weren’t available as they are today.”

        And the article and summary have misquoted and taken it out of context in order to make it seem as if he thought open source didn't exist 2 years ago. Chalk one up for incompetent flamebait journalism.

    • He's a liar like anyone else who holds a position of reasonable power in the government.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by Charliemopps (1157495)

      Have you ever met anyone in management (government or corporate) who was qualified to evaluate technology?

    • The DWP is run by a politician, Ian Duncan Smith, to whom the aphorism "How can you tell a politician is lying? His mouth moves" applies in spades. He is also not very bright as well as being incompetent. The government of which he is a member is one of the most ideological we have had in decades and cares little about actual evidence for the policies.
    • The head of delivery for the UK's Department for Work and Pensions' flagship welfare reform project

      The guy works in the mailroom, what do you expect?

  • Summary trolling (Score:5, Informative)

    by ugen (93902) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @04:59PM (#45654545)

    Even though the article is also lean on the details, at least it provides the actual quote, which is:

    "It relies not on large amounts of tin, black boxes, but uses open source and mechanisms on the web to store and access data,” Shiplee told MPs. When asked why he didn’t adopt this approach two and a half years ago at the start of the project, Shiplee said: “Technology is moving very rapidly, such things weren’t available as they are today.”

    Ok, so "such things" - does not necessarily refer to "open source". It may (and probably does) refer to "mechanisms on the web to store and access data". Perhaps something "in the cloud", given that article does not provide sufficient detail - hard to say.

  • by g0tai (625459) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @05:02PM (#45654587)
    Before people blow up :-) - This usually means that the department wasn't permitted to use 'un-vetted/approved/etc' software at that time (it may have been that they actually /wanted/ to use something open source 2 years ago, but various bits of bureaucracy didn't allow for it) This is government after all :-)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Before people blow up :-)

      You honestly think you can say something, literally anything at all in a Slashdot discussion before people blow up over something misquoted/misinterpreted in the summary. How amusingly charming of you!

      • You honestly think you can say something, literally anything at all in a Slashdot discussion before people blow up over something misquoted/misinterpreted in the summary.

        I would hope so, because otherwise I'd be charged with mass murder for my Slashdot postings, for causing lots of people to blow up. :-)

    • When the source is open it's easier to vett. It's hard for some people the grok that...

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        When the source is open it's easier to vett.

        Both wrong and irrelevant. This isn't about going line-by-line in somebody else's code, this is about having a solid chain of support for when things go wrong. If an organization is willing to spend the time to have their own employees read over a batch of open source code, they would be better off by simply asking those employees to write the same thing themselves, and give them the open source code as an example of something that appears to work.
        I've inherited code before, and honestly, line-by-line rea

        • by jedidiah (1196)

          > Both wrong and irrelevant. This isn't about going line-by-line in somebody else's code, this is about having a solid chain of support for when things go wrong.

          Which you can't really ever gaurantee over the long haul without source code.

          This is by no means a new idea. A lot of older mission critical systems are built with this long term view in mind. Some proprietary systems even come with source so that the customer can ensure their own business continuity.

          That's a very common idea in government procur

    • by PPH (736903)

      Well then, why not say "not permitted", "not approved" or whatever applies. Covering for bureaucratic incompetence should not be an option.

      Place the blame where its due.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "We wanted software for free, and weren't interested in spending the money to have someone write and support the feature we needed. So instead we wasted millions of pounds and man-years of time on a commercial solution we elected to toss the second someone committed the feature to the codebase."

  • I won't waste my time clicking on anything from computerworld even if it's the UK affiliate. How about referencing decent journalism or even a 5th grade writing level?
  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @05:20PM (#45654833)

    I've been using the OpenOffice suite in one of its various previous or successor incarnations for nearly 15 years now, so yeah, its clearly not true that there were no usable Open Source alternatives 2 and a half years ago.

    However, what has happened in the last two and a half years is that Google Docs acquired the capability to use old Microsoft formats (in April of 2010 to be precise) and work offline (September of 2011). If they are using Google Docs and consider all its cloud-based collaboration features along with Microsoft file support and/or offline capability essential features that make their new setup worthwhile, then its perfectly fair to point out that this alternative was not available two and a half years ago.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday December 10, 2013 @06:29PM (#45655595) Journal

    The guy must have just broke out of a block of ice and still thinks it's 1978. On the plus side, he missed Jersey Shore and the Kardashians.

  • millions of geeks all groaned in frustration and were suddenly silenced.
  • GNU has been around since *1983*!
    Linux was released in *1991*!

    By 2010 the city of Munich public services had deployed SuSE Linux in 20% of its front end systems following prior announcement of the plan in 2003, with the stated intention to complete the transition to FOSS by 2015. citation [www.osor.eu]

    Personally, I've been using Linux in various flavours and for various projects since 1996.

    So clearly, the Head of Delivery is full of shit.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      Or may, just maybe, he was deliberately misquoted in the troll summary to rile up posters like you.

      It worked perfectly!

      Clickbait at its finest.

  • Open Source took off with RMS in the 80's.
  • ...breaking, it's fucking BROKEN already! IDS has ADMITTED in the Select Committee inquiry that the system IS NOT READY for rollout and that it is so full of flaws that the planned completion of rollout in 2017 WILL NOT HAPPEN.

  • by bloodhawk (813939) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @06:54AM (#45659049)
    before giving the headline or summary any attention what so ever you need to take note of "Posted by Soulskill", that is all you needed to do to be certain that the summary bears no resemblance to the actual article and has been twisted to some sort of flamebait.

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