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Open Source Software contributed an estimated £46.5bn to UK business in 2020, according to OpenUK

Open UK
13th October 2021
  • Ahead of Open Technology for Sustainability Day at COP26, research report aims to overcome lack of consensus on what is measured and how the value of open source software is calculated

  • Open source software can contribute to environmental stability in UK

  • UK adoption in infrastructure is early stage and needs more education to allow values that open source delivers through collaboration, skill development and environmental sustainability.

13 October 2021 – OpenUK today announced the Third Phase of its Report, State of Open: The UK in 2021, which delves into the adoption of open source in UK organisations and in this Phase 3, into the values that open source creates for businesses. According to the Report’s research, UK businesses need to examine their digital transformation initiatives and understand the role and requirements of open source software in these. Based on the team’s research, open source software contributed an estimated £46.5 billion to UK businesses in 2020.

This is made up of the following values:

  • Direct contribution to the UK economy based on open source software is estimated at £15.7 billion

  • The potential monetary value of collaboration is estimated at £11.3 billion

  • The potential monetary value of skill development is estimated at £10 billion

  • The potential monetary value of high quality code is estimated at £9.5 billion

Valuing the impact of open source to a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is hard as it is excluded from the system of national accounts as it does not meet the criterion of economic ownership. However, it is essential that better financial models around open source impact are found, as open source is the basis of how modern IT systems work, from cloud computing implementations through to applications, data and services.

“Calculating the value that open source software creates is tough to do by its very nature. At OpenUK we see understanding this value better as essential to UK policy development and building business understanding of its usage. As a consequence we’ve worked to capture how much open source contributes to the UK economy and in this phase of our report to UK businesses. We;ve collaborated with a range of international expert individuals and organisations to drill down into the data, to allow us to start to build a benchmark for calculation of the overall economic value of open source. We want to understand the values that open source delivers through collaboration, skill development and environmental sustainability too. Our aim is to share and develop this model collaboratively, so that others can understand it and use it elsewhere in the world,” explained Amanda Brock, CEO at OpenUK.

OpenUK’s approach is based on building consensus around how companies look at both their operational usage of open source and how they can evaluate the benefits derived from that. Based on this, OpenUK seeks to help all organisations understand their use of open source software – alongside open hardware and open data – in their operations, and how they can track this value over time. In moving beyond software, this involves some changes in how organisations think about their processes and operations.

“What we’re trying to get to is a shared culture, shared standards. And through those shared standards, a system that works better and more efficiently for patients. If I can say to workers across the NHS, here are the licenses you can use, here are routes to success that other people across the system have used, here’s your best practices, our GitHub policies [and] if I can give them all of those tools, then they can go to their own local IT teams, their Boards, and say, ‘Look, we’ve got a mandate, we’ve got permission, we’ve got national commitments in the new Data Strategy, we’ve got specifically written policy and guidance on how to make this work’,” commented Andrew Harding, Open Tech Lead at NHSX, the UK Government unit responsible for setting national policy and developing best practice for National Health Service technology, digital and data initiatives.

Applying open principles in the energy sector

OpenUK’s approach involves targeting the energy and utility sector for opportunities to improve how they operate based on open technology principles. This is particularly important as utility companies look at how to apply open data to their customer data and use this to improve customer support and energy efficiency. “As more companies sign up to using open technology, we see the same values being applied outside the IT and software industries, for example in the energy sector. Utility companies want to work around customer data, and they can apply the same ethos and approach to their open data projects too. This kind of data helps those companies understand the value and impact that open technology has, and encourages them to think about projects themselves,” continued Brock. “We plan to support those utility companies through participation in the Energy Sector Task Force,” she added.

The energy sector is still at the beginning of this process, so any guidance will help speed the process. “I think there’s an education job on what open source is and where it’s appropriate in infrastructure for energy and beyond. The Energy Digitalisation Task Force is going to be reporting back to the Government on this governance framework on its pillars, and there needs to be an understanding of open source software. The opportunity for the UK energy sector is transformation optimisation, it’s really absolutely crucial to net zero,” commented Laura Sandys, Lead for the UK Energy Sector Digitalisation Task Force.

“If you can turn open source software into the most sustainable set of software that any organisation should be running, this will play to a priority that every corporate organisation is going to have to walk through in the future. Open source can be part of the net-zero solution for companies going forward, in part by harnessing the communities’ enthusiasm for driving energy efficiency solutions and also by its very reusable nature. As we move towards a green future, open source’s relationship with sustainability needs to be addressed further in order for it to reach its full potential,” added Douglas Smith, Director Digital Innovation and Transformation, Scottish Power.

“Improved access to energy data is at the heart of the UK’s journey to a healthy, growing net-zero economy. This will have an impact not only on the energy sector but also across transport, water, agriculture and the built world. Through open collaboration and open standards, organisations across the UK can unlock sector-wide efficiency and innovation that can enable their own data and technology strategies. It will radically reduce the cost of data sharing and transform access to data by creating cohesion and interoperability: competition should focus on impact, not the rules of the game,” commented Gavin Starks, CEO at Icebreaker One.

The full report, including the economic data used to generate the estimated values for open source and case studies on the use of open source in energy and healthcare, is available at the OpenUK website here. OpenUK will host the Open Technology for Sustainability Day at the COP26 conference on the 11th of November.

About OpenUK

OpenUK is a not for profit industry organisation for the business of Open Technology, being open source software, open source hardware and open data across the UK. OpenUK gives its participants greater influence than they could ever achieve alone by creating a cohesive voice for the business community.

OpenUK is committed to promoting UK leadership and international collaboration in open technology and supporting collaboration between businesses, public sector organisations, government and communities, focusing on the UK to collaborate globally. OpenUK works on 3 pillars: Community, Legal and Policy and Learning.

OpenUK is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, company number 11209475.


Mark Kember
onebite for OpenUK
+44 (0)1635 887707

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