I attended DrupalCampBrighton today for their Business Day, the first day of a three day Drupal extravaganza! LEO were sponsoring the business day which I was really pleased about, we do a fair amount of Drupal work and it’s great to both give something back to the open source community and to get involved in supporting local events. The event was attended by about 60 people at Brighton Media Centre, with the rest of the weekend focussed on more developer-oriented stuff. Today was all about case studies and keynotes though, a bit more at my level! It was a really great event and I came away enthused and energised for all things open source. A great way to end the week!
Before continuing, thanks to all the organisers for putting this on. It’s no small feat putting together an event like this. On Saturday and Sunday there are three speaker streams plus all-day developer sprints. It’s a hugely impressive setup, supported by a team of 8 staff volunteering their time and 15 local sponsors. Well done to one and all for a superb event!
Using open source to drive change
The day started with Jeffrey “Jam” McGuire from Acquia (@HornCologne), a man with the rather natty job title of Open Source Evangelist and a pretty awesome handlebar moustache to boot. Jam gave a half hour keynote that was the best intro to open source I’ve seen in years, although he was certainly preaching to the converted with this crowd. More interesting was his focus on how open source is a driver for business and government transformation. He recalled a conversation with the UK Cabinet Office in which they noted that before mandating open source in government procurements, the map of UK government software spend was centred on the area between Reading and London where Microsoft, Oracle, IBM etc have their UK presence. Since open source that map has blossomed out across the entire country with spending going to SMEs nationwide who can deliver mature and robust open source solutions to government at a fraction of the price. Crucially, that doesn’t only support SMEs but keeps money in the UK instead of going off to some Redmond bank account.
— Mark Aberdour (@maberdour) January 16, 2015
I often have to explain to clients that open source is zero license but not free. No software is free, it always has a cost of ownership in setup, support, updates and maintenance, whatever the license type. Jam used the analogy “free as in puppy”, it’s the first time I heard the line but it sums it up perfectly, you need to nurture, grow and look after your open source implementation. I’ll be borrowing that line myself from now on!
The strength of the Drupal community
Lizzie Hodgson (@lizziehodgson01), who was also compere for the day, then took the stage to talk about the Drupal community. I only really dabble in the fringes of this community so it was interesting to hear about the scale and characteristics of the Drupal community.
Lizzie’s presentation was very insightful and it struck me just how similar the Drupal and Moodle communities are. Both over 1 million community members from 200+ countries, translating the software into 100+ languages, dorm-room founders approximately 14 years ago, annual national conferences the world over, local user groups, the list goes on. These two open source ecosystems have travelled very similar paths over the past decade. Both products were once the young disruptors but are now the juggernauts in their respective spaces, with young upstarts snapping at their own heels. This maturity and strength in the community and ecosystem is a huge advantage, of course. Lizzie also played a great video clip from Cancer Research UK about how they view Drupalcamp as a vital learning and development event for their in-house development team.
Digital transformation at Lush
Richard Jones from iKOS was up next talking about the e-commerce website they built for retailer Lush. It was a great case study and had good technical detail, but the takeaway for me was how Lush formed a central team called Lush Digital to take digital transformation through every aspect of their business, almost like a microcosm of Government Digital Services who were up shortly. There’s a theme here, and in any large and complex organisation whether a retail chain or central government, a centralised digital team will break down organisational silos and barriers, push through agile development methods, facilitate adoption of open source solutions and drive innovation. I think we’ll see more and more of this approach in large organisations.
Digital transformation in government
The other big presentation of the day was from Jake Barlow at Government Digital Services (@gdsteam). If Jam’s first keynote talked about the potential of open source for transformation, Jake had the perfect case study for how it’s being delivered in the real world. GDS is a UK government success story, pushing a ‘digital by default’ approach through central government. Among other things, Jake talked about the GDS Service Standard. We’ve been using this at LEO with our work for Civil Service Learning, a combined Drupal and Moodle site that delivers online learning and course booking to half a million civil servants. Jake alluded to a conflict at the heart of the Service Standards: GDS are pushing agile approaches yet the Service Standard has elements of waterfall model in there. It was a real talking point with the audience during Q&A, because as one attendee pointed out, government procurement teams will demand GANTT charts and highly defined deliverables, and you can’t win a government contract based on minimum viable products and daily standups! It feels very much like a ‘watch this space’ area. Jake suggested that SMEs and developers like those in the room today get stuck into the service standard, “use it and abuse it” and feed back on it. It will be really interesting to see where this all goes.
— Mark Aberdour (@maberdour) January 16, 2015
GDS have an admirable focus on user needs, this is evident throughout their approach and standards, with user needs informing the prioritisation of tasks. It’s exactly as it should be. I love this approach and it’s great that UK government and GDS are leading the way here, setting a standard that other countries are following. Long may it continue.
Open source: ‘job done’ or on the cusp of something big?
You can probably see the big takeaway theme by now: Transformation. It ran through many of today’s presentations. I’ve increasingly been of the view that open source has reached a ‘job done’ type of moment in that it’s now seen as mature, robust and reliable in almost every market sector. The BlackDuck Future of OSS survey last year summed it up: “Open source is eating the software world”. But it doesn’t matter to me whether open source dominates the software world and ‘defeats’ the likes of Microsoft and Oracle. For me, it’s about levelling the playing field so that open source and proprietary vendors can compete on value and features. In that sense, it does almost feel like ‘job done’.
But reflecting on today’s presentations, especially the keynotes from Jam and Jake, we are not at the end of a journey, we are at the start of a larger one. This new journey is one of transformation. Digital transformation is changing the way we do business and the way we do government, and open source is oiling the wheels of this change. The US and UK governments both now have repositories on Github, which was unheard of just a few years ago. Open source solutions are being deployed rapidly in disaster response zones, where before there was just talk. Open data is ushering in an era of transparency. Where previously only big IT players got a look in, we now have SMEs delivering high quality open source solutions in government, providing value for tax payers and fueling loyal economies. It seems that now we have an increasingly level playing field, the true value of open source is only just starting to be realised. Put simply, it feels like open source is on the cusp of something big. As someone who has been working in open source for going on 10 years, it’s great to be saying that again! This time though, it’s not about acceptance within the software world, it’s about driving change much further afield. Hugely exciting stuff.
Thanks to DrupalCamp Brighton, something really clicked for me today, and I came away enthused, energised and full of ideas. That’s what I love about these types of events, and for a whole host of reasons this is something that I really needed! A big thanks to the organisers, sponsors and attendees for coming together and making a great day.