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Amanda Brock, CEO, OpenUK

State of Open: The UK in 2022

Phase One: “The Open Source Journey”

The OpenUK State of Open 2022 Report highlights the pervasive influence of Open Source Software (OSS) across diverse sectors in the UK, from media and finance to energy. The report traces the evolution of OSS from consumption to contribution, emphasising its integral role in contemporary digital infrastructure. It explores the shift from traditional IT procurement routes to the accessibility of freely usable code on platforms like GitHub, disrupting proprietary models. Amanda stresses the importance of understanding OSS as more than a legal requirement, underscoring the need for collaboration, contribution, and community involvement to ensure well-maintained and secure code. The report also acknowledges challenges such as a shortage of skills in the OSS landscape and discusses the critical role of experienced vendors in achieving successful OSS adoption. It concludes with gratitude for contributors and announces future reports focusing on curation, sustainability and societal value metrics.

Introduction – Thought Leadership
Amanda Brock, CEO, OpenUK

“Wee, sleekit, cowrin, timerous beastie” what are you doing on the front of the OpenUK State of Open 2022 Report? This wee mouse has been recorded for the BBC’s Springwatch TV programme using Open Source Software (as have the starlings on the back) and you can read more about that usage in one of two case studies included in this report from the BBC. The second looks at an open standard combating fake news by authenticating the source of news.

The case studies draw out the Open Source Software journey and maturation across a wide range of UK businesses showing the practical impact that Open Source Software has on all of our day to day lives here in the UK. From TV and media consumption, to our finances, travel plans and fashion choices, even our energy suppliers, in a digitalised world the use of Open Source Software underlies our daily activities. This is not only true of enterprise but also in the public sector and we include case studies from this too.

Building on the “State of Open”2021, like the cameras in Springwatch, we observe the passage of time by following the journey to Open Source Software maturity, along the road from consumption, to contribution and distribution of products and services based on Open Source Software. We give consideration to the duration at each stage and how that impacts behaviours, note that some consume and distribute but do not contribute, and of course, the maintainers.

We have not split the report by literature review, case studies and survey but instead by the phases of the journey, mixing these to tell the story of that lifecycle. The 2022 survey results cross referenced against the stages allow us to better understand and show the behaviours at these and to consider benefits and challenges.

When computer coding began decades ago, developers naturally shared code and collaborated. Only on the application of copyright law to code did proprietary software come into existence setting companies on the journey of licence revenue generation based on code carefully hidden, and secretly managed behind closed doors. A twist of fate.

I often wonder how our digital infrastructure would have evolved without that having happened. Would society, with the benefit of decades of collaborative innovation – without this artificial copyright barrier – have benefited from a faster pace of innovation? Perhaps we would have seen greater and earlier advancements in the state of technology and our digital infrastructure? I certainly imagine a world where there would be more digital equity and undoubtedly we would consider software forming this infrastructure as a digital public good.

As we see our public infrastructure shift today to digital public infrastructure, and these systems becoming equally if not more important than our physical infrastructure, our digital world is seen to be software defined and that infrastructure is critical. Whatever the imaginary might have been (hindsight is a great thing) today’s reality is a digital world shifted to Open Source Software forming a digital public good.

Open Source Software is an inevitability in this picture. The UK’s state requirements like that of an Open Source Spine for the energy sector, requested by the the Energy Digitalisation Task Force Report published in January 20224 are unsurprising and drive our digitalisation in the most appropriate direction. Today’s challenge is this journey and maturation in the behaviours necessary to create and maintain secure and reliable Open Source Software.

The balance of power in Open Source’s disruption of the proprietary world shifted as a consequence of the change in the process of organisational acquisition of IT. Traditional and cumbersome legal and procurement routes for the selection of and contracting for IT are bypassed. Open Source Software being freely usable and acquired via repositories like GitHub and Gitlab has driven this. Pre-licensed freely available Open Source code negates the requirement for a budget or the need for a contract to allow software. Only once code is successfully embedded in an organisation does the IT team need to engage with legal, finance or procurement and even then only if it wishes to purchase services to ensure appropriate curation of the Open Source such as experts contributing to maintenance, security and the other good hygiene of Open Source.

Software choice and governance is not manageable through contract negotiations today. Instead risk may only be managed by appropriate policies and procedures and these good practices and governance collectively facilitate risk management and good hygiene in Open Source. If necessary skills are not available in-house, or even where some are, deep expertise may be contracted for. Perhaps from the organisation behind the Open Source Software product but increasingly multiple parties offer support for a single product
and organisations offer support services for their competitors’ products not just their own.

Open Source is more than the legal definition. The public sector’s Open Source journey, as with the organisational journey to maturity, often sees Open Source expressed as a requirement to place code on a public repository with an Open Source Initiative approved licence. But it takes much more than the sharing of code and application of a licence – it takes an understanding of contribution, collaboration and community to create well maintained code that is secure.

In the UK public sector and enterprise, if innovation is not accompanied by good technical hygiene and governance then open sourcing becomes a tick box bureaucratic exercise, unlikely to meet financial goals such as avoiding vendor lock-in or seeing code reused and recycled across organisations.

Vendors with the right skill sets and experience are critical to enterprise infrastructure and public sector adoption. Money spent with inexperienced Open Source organisations or those unwilling to fully embrace this full picture of what Open Source is, may well result in Open Source Software that might as well be proprietary software and loses the benefits Open Source ought to deliver. A shortage of skills is clear.

In this report we drill down on the detail of the UK’s journey with the survey outputs, literature review, case studies and thought leadership on the State of Open: The UK in 2022. We see the UK truly “Doubling Down on Open Source”, so much so that more is needed. This was to be a single report to follow up to our three phases in 2021. However, the immediacy of the need for more information on trust, curation and ensuring the UK infrastructure is secure means we will share a phase 2 on curation in September and a phase 3 on Sustainability and our new Societal Value Metrics in November.

OpenUK’s report is again leading the world with ground breaking questions, research and approaches to the economic calculations for Open Source Software focused on investment. We will continue to push boundaries and evolve thinking in all of our research.

I am personally grateful to all who have contributed to this report and thank you formally on a personal and OpenUK level. We continue to be a diverse organisation with a diverse set of participants and creators. Another hard year has led to exhaustion, family issues and ill health and the level of hard work and dedication to make this report happen despite all of this is why we are a community. Thank you.

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