Open Source, Open Standards 2013 Conference, 18/04/2013, America Square Conference Centre

A member of the Geospatial Engineering team at Newcastle, David Alderson, recently attended a GovNet series conference in London, entitled “Open Source, Open Standards”. This was held at the America Square Conference Centre, and more information about the conference can be found here.

The conference delegates were largely comprised of various government agencies including the Department for Transport, Office of National Statistics, representation from emergency services, Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as well as representation from many local councils from around the UK. From within these various organisations the delegates were largely found to be based within some part of their specific IT operations.

Keeping in mind the public sector background of a significant number of the delegates in attendance at the conference, many of the exhibitors were offering open source solutions to various IT-related challenges including content management, telecommunications, secure mobile offsite collaborative working, data storage amongst others. Some of the major players in the open source world were also exhibiting their products, and post-purchase services including redhat, and MySQL (Oracle), whilst there were also stands from (amongst others):

The conference overall was a fantastic opportunity for public sector employees, to gain further insight in to how open source solutions can offer alternatives to proprietary software, that are often found within government department and agencies as a result of a legacy of long-term IT contracts and vendor lock-in. The general feeling amongst those presenting was that open source offers IT managers, and those involved in the procurement process of IT within the public sector, fantastic competition to the proprietary software providers meaning that the options available are greatly increased and improved. However Tariq Rashid, Open Source Policy Lead, HM Government and a speaker at the conference was keen to stress that open source is not being “favoured” over proprietary solutions, and that both operate on a level playing field. The take home message for delegates seemed to be more related to understanding what open source can offer by dispelling fears and myths about it’s use or misuse, whilst intimating that the choice of open source vs proprietary should be more related to the problem to be solved, and that a mixture could be the best solution. 

A number of keynote presentations were delivered during the conference, and further information can be found at the conference website, including hopefully the presentation slides themselves. Of particular interest to geospatial people was the presentation delivered in the afternoon by Executive Head of Technology at the Met Office, Graham Mallin. He introduced some excellent work that has been undertaken at the Met Office with collaborations from other national meteorological services from France, South Korea and Australia, nearly all put together using open source products including the ever-popular Python products, Numpy, Scipy, Matplotlib, as well as GeoNetwork and PostgreSQL. A Space Weather interface was also briefly demonstrated during Graham’s presentation highlighting how open source is completely capable of handling all types of data and IT-related challenges.

Further information on the OpenWIS project can be found at the Met Office website.

Some other interesting talks were given by Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius Corporation which operates as the UK’s leading Open Source services provider. Mark gave some interesting examples of how aspects of IT infrastructure within different organisations or government departments with which Sirius has worked with, were swapped or migrated to open source alternatives. The general take home message there seemed to be that caution is sensible and making the right choice for your problem is key, and that finally taking bite-size steps to replacing components is more sensible than wholesale change.

Upon reflection many of the speakers and exhibitors did a great job of promoting the use and exploration of open source alternatives at all levels of spatial and non-spatial software stacks but ultimately that the process of technology selection, deployment and maintenance is not that different to when considering purchasing licensed-based proprietary software.

Some interesting links: – IRIS tool – OpenWIS explained by Graham Mallin, Executive Head of Technology, Met Office

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