National level strategy for Open Principles in Geospatial – ideas and inputs needed

Few months back, i decided to start Free GIS Workshops and Think Tanks for UK government organisations, SMEs and startups at the University of Nottingham to bring together all interested players to learn, share and discuss ideas in for future collaboration opportunities in Open Source, Open Standards, Open Data in Geospatial in the UK [1]. This is now being replicated by our colleagues in Malaysia and other countries globally.

For background, Open principles are now implemented by the UK Government and delivering huge cost savings for government -£409 million in the first half of the year it was implemented (six months in 2012 alone) [2]. Open source GIS software will help the local authorities and various government departments in reducing huge licence fee costs for proprietary software and the UK Government and taxpayers as a whole will benefit from cost efficiencies, reduce the cost of lock-in to suppliers and products. This is especially important for future IT investments (for example Cloud Computing) , so that more options are explored and choices available.

In the geo field there are amazing developments happening in other countries in Europe. For example, in Spain where the joining together of universities, SMEs and local government resulted in gvSIG initiative (started in Valencia but now across Spain) where now national and local governments have shifted to free and open source GIS software (saving millions of Euros each year of tax payers money ) and also helped create hundreds of new highly skilled digital economy jobs through the starting of large number of local industry and SMEs providing value added services and customization that has resulted from this gvSIG initiative [3]. The “gvSIG” initiative was successful in Spain because it had strong collaboration between industry, local government and academia in Open Geo Services in Spain.

How can UK replicate gvSIG and other successful models ? I think we also need to similar model but customised for local needs and also have a National level focus. There are many things that are in our advantage including UK Government’s strong support and policy on Open Principles (this has already reflected in software procurement polices saving millions of pounds of taxpayers money but this just a tip of the iceburg). In the UK there are 433 principal authorities: 27 county councils, 55 unitary authorities, 32 London boroughs, 36 Metropolitan boroughs, 201 districts, 32 Scottish unitary authorities, 22 Welsh unitary authorities, and 26 Northern Ireland districts ,and every single one of them are using GIS, so imagine the costs per year of taxpayers money spend for buying proprietary GIS licences ! Now imagine the costs for not one year costs but costs for 5 years , 10 years, 25 years from now etc. It will be in billions of taxpayers money that should be spend for expanding investment in schools, universities,  healthcare etc NOT keeping paying to buy high cost proprietary GIS licences when there are now lot of open alternatives available and many other countries are already doing this. It will help also create and accelerate local innovation opportunities in location based technologies and stimulate local industry and accelerate new jobs creation in digital economy for value added services building upon technologies.

Professional Open source GIS software like QGIS http://qgis.org/en/site/  will help the local authorities and various departments in reducing huge annual license fee costs for proprietary  software and the UK Government and taxpayers as a whole will benefit from cost efficiencies, reduce the cost of lock-in to suppliers and products and help create opportunities for local SMEs and startups.

There are many best practice examples from governments globally that we can make use of to learn and adapt to suit our requirements.

For example, The Netherlands were one of the first governments in Europe (back in 2007) to have an action plan for the use of Open Standards and Open Source Software in the public and semi-public sector. You can get the full details from https://www.ictu.nl/archief/noiv.nl/service/english/index.html

There are now lot of best practice examples from other EU governments at https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/community/open_standards_ict/og_page/best-practices-library

We are especially interested in examples of ideas and action plans from local authorities to make use of open technologies (esp in GIS) for helping reduce the high proprietary GIS licence costs as it is one of the biggest IT expenses in GIS. So you can imagine the cumulative annual costs for the UK government for keeping buying proprietary GIS . Now imagine the costs for not just one year but in the future 5, 10 , 25 years. The savings will be millions of pounds and with the UK government action plan on Open Principles implemented, i am interested in learning about examples from local authorities who are making this phased transition. This is especially important for Smart Cities programs and will help build an ecosystem at the local level and help create big opportunities for industry, SMEs and startups in the UK . This will create innovation opportunities locally. The startup community is especially open to the use of open software and data avoiding licensing restrictions which may impact on their business plans, raise early start-up costs and restrict their ability to innovate allowing them greater branding freedom and product flexibility.

I am trying to look at other successful  phased transition examples from properitery GIS to free and open GIS in other countries to learn ideas. For example,one key aspect of gvSIG success in Spain was that they were thinking at national level while acting locally. They came to meet me few years back at Nottingham to learn what we are doing and share thier ideas (they also invited us to be honourary member http://blog.gvsig.org/2011/02/10/building-up-gvsig-community-in-uk/  ) and i was really impressed by thier clear implementation plans for the whole of Spain including developing strong value added support services for gvSIG across Spain through creating an Association for all SMEs to collaborate. They have been successful in expanding to other Spanish speaking regions but thier main drawback for wider global expansion was the focus on Spanish language . But  the launguage customisation and focus was also key thier local needs .

In UK there is already excellent early signs of effects (and this need to be accelerated) esp. in local government starting to happen with the UK Government policy and i understand that there are many local authorities now in the process of planning phased migration plans to QGIS for desktop GIS and also looking into open geo technology solutions for thier webbased mapping needs. I think this is a good sign but in my humble suggestion there needs to be a national level strategy for this (it is all being done differently in different local authorities) and we are missing an excellent opportunity of what the Spain and other countries have done by having Triple helix strategy – government, Industry and Academia” in place which helped accelerate developments and bring more cost efficiencies in the process. We also need to keep educating colleagues on the importance of protecting open standards [4] and open principles to ensure no monopolies are created in geospatial.

Another important development is now the central and local governments are in a strong position for the first time in history in terms of software procurement because there is lot of choice. It will force the properitery vendors (who used to be monopoly and dictate terms) to keep reducing thier high license fees and it just shows why it is important to have strong competition . So overall the UK taxpayers will benifit from savings of millions of pounds in software procurement for GIS in the future and the UK economy will benifit by this helping create more opportunities for SMEs and startups locally. So it will be double win for the UK government.

Also UK has already a fast growing ecosystem of SMEs in open geo services and this need to be supported by the right policy frameworks and instruments . For example, if you look at the SMEs in the OSGeo ecosystem in the UK , you can see many – starting from 1 person startups to companies employing hundreds [5]. The right policy frameworks is needed to help create the conditions for more RedHat type organisations [6] in the geospatial and smart cities sector for creating thousands of highly skilled jobs in the future. It needs someone with the National level vision to lead this and i am interested to hear from national level organisations who are interested to act as a bridge for this. So if you are working in central or local governments in the UK, please share my email with your colleagues and ask interested colleagues to contact me to discuss ideas.

Best wishes,

Suchith Anand
http://www.geoforall.org/

[1] http://opensourcegeospatial.icaci.org/2015/08/ree-gis-info-workshop-for-uk-government-organisations-smes-and-startups-the-university-of-nottingham/
[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-bodies-must-comply-with-open-standards-principles
[3] http://www.gvsig.com/en/gvsig-association
[4] http://www.osgeo.org/node/1518
[5] http://www.osgeo.org/search_profile?SET=1&MUL_COUNTRY[]=00002
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Hat

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