Whitehall drives open standards compliance regime
Principles published following public consultation intended to force more innovation and greater savings
The Cabinet Office has published open standards guidance with which it said all government bodies must comply to make their IT more open, cheaper and better connected.
The open standards principles , which were developed following a public consultation earlier this year, are designed to help government deliver more innovative IT services and drive greater competition for government contracts.
All government bodies must comply with the principles for software interoperability and data and document formats in government IT, or apply for an exemption. The principles set out that "royalty free open standards" are key to levelling the playing field for open source and proprietary software in government IT.
The Cabinet Office anticipates that will drive greater savings beyond the £409m the government says it has saved on ICT services in the first half of this financial year.
"Government must be better connected to the people it serves and partners who can work with it - especially small businesses, voluntary and community organisations," said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. "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."
Although the principles refer to the government in its roles as a purchaser of IT and to services delivered by, for or on behalf of departments and their agencies, other areas of the wider public sector, including councils and devolved administrations, are being encouraged to adopt the principles.
Local government, which is under severe financial pressure, could make substantial savings by adopting the open standards principles, some government officials believe.
The foremost of the principles is that user needs must be at the heart of choices about IT standards. The government's rationale is that "citizens, businesses and delivery partners must be able to interact with the government, exchanging appropriately formatted information or data using the software package of their choice. They must not have costs imposed upon them or be digitally excluded by the IT choices which the government makes".
Another sets out that the role of open standards in supporting flexibility and change: "Smaller, component-based IT projects provide a flexible design to allow choice and enable an evolution of the government's IT estate, rather than costly big bang changes. That reduces the risk of lock-in to suppliers, software service and support, or to old and inefficient IT."
By being more innovative on small-scale, low-risk IT projects, the government believes it can deliver more innovative solutions. For larger scale, more high risk government IT projects the principles set out that "implementing mature open standards with a broad market support provide s stable infrastructure on which to build".
The government admits that it has to agree on the challenges to focus on and the open standards to adopt and is now in the process of developing a "Standards Hub" through which organisations can contribute to the process for prioritising and adopting open standards in Government.
It has also published documents from Bournemouth University on the use of open standards in Government IT and an analysis of the consultation process.