Government to save tens of millions of pounds through open formats instead of Microsoft Office software
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has extended previous promises to adopt open source software for UK government use, with a pledge to save millions of pounds and break Microsoft’s “oligopoly” using open document standards.
The government will demand open document formats such as ODF, as a way to reduce the spend on proprietary software such software such as Microosft Office, Maude said in a speech today. The public sector has spent around £200 million on Microsoft Office usage alone since 2010, and Maude believes that this amount could be cut significantly by switching to open source alternatives such as OpenOffice or web services like Google Docs.
“I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software,” Maude said at the Sprint 14 event, a demonstration of new diigital public services.
“In the first instance, this will help departments to do something as simple as share documents with each other more easily. But it will also make it easier for the public to use and share government informatio,” he said, according to a Press Association report..
“Technical standards for document formats may not sound like the first shot in a revolution. But be in no doubt: the adoption of compulsory standards in government threatens to break open Whitehall’s lock-in to proprietary formats. In turn we will open the door for a host of other software providers.”
The move to open formats would save cash, said Mark Taylor, CEO of open-source technology provider Sirius: “An absurd amount of money has been spent by the government on IT. Using proprietary software has come at a huge cost for the government, as users get locked in purchasing the entire Office suite of programs. Breaking up the Microsoft oligopoly would greatly reduce the cost on the public purse”, he said. If government buys from other companies this should also force Microsoft to lower its prices, he said believes, as well as opening up the market opportunities available.
But it will also make government sites more open and save money for the public, he said. People will no longer be forced to interact with Government using Microsoft products. The requirement to file tax returns in Microsoft Excel or Word format could have forced citizens to buy Microsoft Office (or even pirate it).
Maude also hailed changes designed to increase the number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) winning public sector contracts, stating that the government will buy £100 million more in IT services and technology from such companies by the 2015 general election.
This will primarily be done through CloudStore, the government’s new procurement web site, hailed by Maude as “a whole new concept in IT buying”, allowing public sector organisations to purchase IT off the shelf in an open market.
“For both government and the companies listed this means less bureaucracy and less hassle,” he said, adding that the public sector as a whole had spent already completed £78 million of transactions through CloudStore.
Halfway to public sector heaven?
Sprint 14 marks the halfway point in the 400 working days the government set itself to put 25 significant public services online, when it proposed savings of £1.2 billion during the current Parliament, rising to an estimated £1.7 billion a year after 2015.
The services on show, which are due to go live in 2015, include online portals through which users can register to vote, apply for a working visa, view their driving records, and arrange prison visits. HMRC also demonstrated the first of a set of digital services that will eventually allow 41 million PAYE employees to view and manage their income tax records and information using a ‘digital tax account’. Currently the only way these customers can manage their tax records is by telephone, paper form or letter, which generates 680,000 calls and letters to HMRC each year.
“A year ago we gave ourselves 400 days to transform 25 of the most significant services in government. Our strategy is delivery and, 200 days in, we’re delivering,” said Mike Bracken, executive director of the Government Digital Service. “Departments are rapidly getting the skills and resources they need to deliver digital services that rival the best in the world. We’re making digital public services as easy and convenient as online banking or booking a ticket online. Digital by default is becoming reality right across government. “
The government recently announced new rules that forbid automatic contract extensions and limit all IT contracts to £100 million, unless there is an “exceptional reason” to do otherwise. These “red lines” are being implemented to help avoid future costly mistakes like the National Programme for IT, a failed NHS project which is likely to cost the taxpayer around £9.8 billion, and controversies such as the struggles of the Universal Credit welfare programme.
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