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Government departments commit to open standards principles

01 Nov 2012
The Cabinet Office in London

All government departments have signed up to the implementation of open standards, a move that will drive down costs of public-sector IT procurements and has the potential to shake up some of the largest government relationships with suppliers.

Departments are now required to ensure all new IT contracts with suppliers abide by open standards principles, allowing software interoperability and data and document format interoperability.

Open standards in hardware and telecoms will not be mandated by this new policy, though.

According to the government, the Cabinet Office central spend and control process will ensure departments adhere to the policy when procuring IT. However, departments will be able to apply for an exemption to the policy on a case-by-case basis.

"Having open information and software that can be used across government departments will result in lower licensing costs in government IT, and reduce the cost of lock-in to suppliers and products," said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

"It is only right that we are encouraging competition and creating a level playing field for all companies to ensure we are getting the best price for the taxpayer."

The government proposed an open standards policy to make IT solutions fully interoperable, allowing for IT reuse, sharing and scalability across departments.

The government has opted to go with the most meaningful definition of open standards, so suppliers that do business with departments will have to embrace standards that are royalty-free, rather than just Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND).

This will mean all IT product parts will have to be open so other vendors and services can innovate and compete to provide value-added functionality. The proposed policy will do away with the bundled-approach the government has taken to IT procurement, and allow it to be focused on components.

This will help the government avoid lengthy vendor lock-ins, and allow departments to transfer services or suppliers without excessive transition costs, loss of data or functionality. There is also the possibility that this policy will improve data sharing across government.

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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