Government Cost-Cutting Plan Embraces Open Source

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Cabinet minister Francis Maude says his new ICT strategy will save the government millions

The government has unveiled a new ICT cost-cutting strategy, in which it renews its commitment to encouraging small business innovation and embraces open source technologies.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude outlined the plans today, promising to create a level playing field for open source software and impose compulsory open standards, starting with interoperability and security.

“For too long, Government has wasted vast amounts of money on ineffective and duplicate IT systems,” said Maude. “We will end the oligopoly of big business supplying government IT by breaking down contracts into smaller, more flexible projects. This will open up the market to SMEs and new providers.”

Delivering interoperability

In its report, the government acknowledges that, when used in conjunction with compulsory open standards, open source presents “significant opportunities for the design and delivery of interoperable solutions”. It says that moving to smaller and more manageable projects will improve project delivery timelines and reduce the risk of project failure.

The government also intends to encourage the sharing and reuse of ICT solutions and contracts across the public sector through a common infrastructure and online applications store. This will help prevent unnecessary duplication and save on the cost of purchasing new or bespoke solutions.

Furthermore, the report states that the government will move away from large and expensive ICT projects, with a presumption that no project will be greater than £100 million.

“We are especially pleased to see that [the report] recognises ICT as an enabler and not just an overhead,” said John Higgins, director general of Intellect, the trade association for the UK’s technology industry. “By adopting innovative approaches and opening up opportunities to SMEs, social enterprises, charities and other new providers, we will see a dynamic supplier ecosystem and greater benefits to the taxpayer.”

Fairer procurement policies

The news has been welcomed by the National Outsourcing Association, which says the decision will help the public sector get the most out of its ICT suppliers and keep costs to a minimum.

“At present, the government is tied into a range of contracts with large suppliers, which could mean that they struggle to get the best possible service as a result,” said Martyn Hart, Chairman of the National Outsourcing Association.

“By pledging to free policy makers from the multi-billion pound contracts they have been tied to, and creating a ‘presumption against’ IT contracts in excess of £100 million, the government is ensuring that public sector procurement for IT is more cost-effective and competitive, which is good news for the outsourcing industry and the public sector as a whole.”

The news follows on the heels of the government’s new ‘StartUp Britain’ scheme, which is intended to support entrepreneurs and help new businesses get off the ground. Organisers of the scheme estimate that the government’s support is worth more than £1,500 for every British start-up business. The government also this week unveiled its Innovation Launch Pad, which allows SMBs to pitch their ideas on how to offer better value for money in the delivery of government services.

“In recent weeks, we’ve seen the coalition government pledging to support SMEs with a broad range of initiatives aimed at ensuring that larger outsourcing suppliers are not the only ones with access to public sector contracts,” said Hart. “This morning’s announcement is designed to take this a step further and ensure a fairer procurement process for IT contracts in the public sector.”

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