Open Source software now enables gov.uk sites to be deployed rapidly

Tuesday, 26 July, 2016 In Featured News, General News

UK government websites can now be deployed within minutes by re-using the familiar http//gov.uk theme produced by Government Digital Services (GDS) along with Bootstrap technology, allowing access from all devices.

Open Source Software specialist OpusVL has made it possible to take the official Gov.UK website theme created by Government Digital Services with an Open license, and reproduce it quickly and easily using Bootstrap, a HTML, CSS and JavaScript framework originating from Twitter, which is used for creating front end websites and applications. With an increase in the variety of devices used to view websites, bootstrap is a standard toolkit for building responsive design and enabling websites to be mobile and tablet friendly.

The Government has invested a large amount of time and resources in developing its digital services gov.uk theme. By 2014, over two years had been spent researching and improving the accessibility of its web interface, providing access to as many people as possible, including compatibility with screen readers for the blind and partially sighted, whilst implementing best practice for readers of all abilities. A key consideration has always been to make Gov.UK websites accessible to all in order to comply to with the Equality Act of 2010.

This led to GDS making its theme available to others under an Open Source license. To protect the brand of the gov.uk websites, GDS opted to only allow its typeface to be used on official documents and websites hosted on the http://gov.uk domain. This ensured that sites and documents not officially sanctioned by the government look different to the reader. From an operational perspective, it is very easy to develop a website using a font available publicly, which then requires a minor alteration to switch to the government font when a site is signed off for official use.

Sharing and re-use of software and technology is high on the agenda of GDS and the government design principles recommend that code, designs, ideas, and intentions are shared, with its work dependable on Open Source principles. This principle enabled OpusVL to import the work of GDS and re-factor it in the form of the commonly used Bootstrap framework in addition to the methods originally created by GDS.

OpusVL’s Govstrap solution, which has been released as free and Open Source, will help users in the public sector to cut costs and improve the consistency of its digital footprint while adhering to Open Standards policies when deploying a website. Govstrap is available for developers to download from the Github repository or can be acquired through the Government Digital Services G-Cloud framework.

Stuart Mackintosh, Managing Director of OpusVL commented “Previously a government department would have to go through the procedure of assessing accessibility needs, deciding on a design, selecting developers to implement the design, in addition to working on their content. As the work has already been done by GDS, it makes sense for this to be re-used rather than paying for a new build, which often would not follow the principles of Open Standards and re-use. What is exciting about GovStrap is that councils and other official government agencies can just take the theme and deploy a professional government-styled website. Govstrap has made a resource draining process quick and simple.”

GovStrap was created as a by-product whilst delivering an update to the website for NHS England’s Code4Health project, which is developed on the Open Source Flexibase framework. Both Govstrap and Flexibase have been exported by OpusVL with open licences and are available in the Github code repository for anyone to re-use, extend and enhance.

Mackintosh said: “We were asked to update the Code 4 Health website with a new professional theme as part of a wider project and it did not make economic sense for our customer to start from scratch when most of the work had already been done by GDS. It is a bit like holding the door open for someone, it doesn’t take any more effort if you are going through it anyway.”

The company has also supported the development of the ‘custodian’ acquisition model to improve access to free and Open Source technology, where the procurement is for professional wrap around services such as implementation, training and customisation. OpusVL advocates not only the import, but also the export of Open Source Code across the public sector.

According to Mackintosh, GovStrap offers opportunities for organisations within the public sector, and could even benefit the private sector as well. He concluded: “Govstrap provides the opportunity to improve the quality and accessibility of digital services whilst reducing cost and time, therefore risk, to complete projects.”

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