Whitehall offers 'fair and reasonable' open policy
The government's strategy for creating open and interoperable information systems across the public sector will include "fair and non-discriminatory" use of proprietary products, a consultation has indicated. The consultation has already prompted accusations that the coalition government's early enthusiasm for fully open systems has been attenuated following industry lobbying.
Introducing the consultation, published last week, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude says open standards are crucial to the government's strategy for improving the effectiveness of public sector IT systems while cutting their cost. Lack of interoperability, the consultation says, "makes it difficult for the government to reuse components, switch between vendors and products or to deliver efficient public services that leverage the value of government information, for instance through the provision of interfaces that allow delivery partners to build on government information services, delivering more innovative solutions."
The philosophy is not new: last year's government ICT strategy committed Whitehall to the mandatory use of open standards. However it failed to define what was meant by the term. The new consultation aims to fill the gap by clarifying what will be the components of an open standard and in what circumstances open standards will be mandated. It stresses there will be no "big bang" transition. "Standards are implemented as part of the lifecycle of a technology refresh and included in procurement specifications - the move to open standards will be a gradual migration."
Industry watchers detect a considerable watering down of earlier open standards policies. A previous government definition of open standards, withdrawn in 2011, required "intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis."
The consultation now seeks answers to the question asked is "how could adopting Fair, Non Discriminatory ((F)RAND) standards deliver a level playing field for open source and proprietary software solution providers?"
The consultation closes on 3 May. A little optimistically, on past performance, a response is timetabled for "summer 2012". A new policy on open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats in government IT procurement will then be published.