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UK Government Adopts Open Standards

Open Source © Curioso Shutterstock 2012
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Government departments will have to consider open source when choosing suppliers

On Thursday, the UK government has adopted the Open Standards – a set of policies designed to make public sector IT cheaper, more transparent and better connected.

From now on, all government bodies will have to follow certain guidelines regarding software interoperability and data and document formats, to enable adoption of open source solutions where possible.

The changes were announced by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who has been the driving force behind this new ICT strategy.

Open sesame

Last March, the government revealed a new ICT strategy, which committed it to creating a common IT infrastructure based on a suite of compulsory open standards, in order to save money in a recession.

Open Source © kentoh Shutterstock 2012The Open Standards Principles have been developed following a public consultation, launched in February. It was scheduled to run until May, but was extended for another month after some of the results had to be scrapped due to a conflict of interest.

In April, it emerged that one of the organisers didn’t disclose his links to Microsoft, prompting criticisms of the big vendor participation in the discussion.

Despite these drawbacks, the government says it has received “overwhelming” support from the public and the IT community for setting a single policy for open source solutions.

Among nearly 500 responses to the consultation, almost 70 percent said the Open Standards Principles will improve innovation, competition and choice in the provision of government services. Over 70 percent of respondents thought it would also help provide better value for money.

“We know that there are more real savings to be made in Government IT contracts – in the first half of this year, we have already saved £409 million on ICT services,” said Maude.

“Government must be better connected to the people it serves and partners who can work with it – especially small businesses, voluntary and community organisations. 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,” he added.

It is thought that the Open Standards will help SMBs provide more services to the public sector, and encourage more competition for the government contracts.

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Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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