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Open Source software now enables sites to be deployed rapidly

13 July 2016 16:00


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

The 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 tool kit 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 their digital services theme. By 2014, over 2 years had been spent researching and improving the accessibility of their 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>. Joshua Marshall, Head of Accessibility at GDS states "It shouldn't be a thing you try and bolt on at the end. It shouldn’t be optional. It should just be a part of the process of making something good". This work resulted in being awarded the D&AD - a design and advertising award, which is not what one would typically expect for a government department.

This effort works towards complying with the Equality Act of 2010. GDS advise "If you exclude anyone from using your service based on disability, you may be in breach of the Equality Act 2010" and specify that "As a minimum, your service must meet Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.">.

In order for other departments to take advantage of this investment, GDS made the decision to share the output of this work> by making the GDS theme available under the MIT Open Source license> created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To protect the brand of the websites, GDS opted to only allow their typeface to be used on official documents and sites hosted on the domain>. This restriction ensures that sites and documents not officially sanctioned by the government will 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> recommendation is that  "We should share what we’re doing whenever we can. With colleagues, with users, with the world. Share code, share designs, share ideas, share intentions, share failures", They also state that this work is dependant on Open Source principles and communities "Much of what we’re doing is only possible because of open source code and the generosity of the web design community. We should pay that back."

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 web site. 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 though 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 says: "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 advocate 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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About OpusVL
Established in 1999, OpusVL is a leading Open Source specialist implementer and a leading UK Odoo integration partner. The company works with businesses in both the private and public sectors, implementing business management systems and associated services.

For further information, please contact:-
Editorial Lauren Westley, OpusVL on 01788 298450, or John Edden, Bridge PR & Media Services on 024 76 520025, or e-mail

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Press Contacts

Lauren Westley

Marketing Executive

Tel: 01788 298 450

About OpusVL

OpusVL implement business management software and professional Open Source solutions. Developing custom solutions since 1999.

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