Europe says public authorities should use open standards to save money
On Tuesday, the European Commission published guidelines aimed at making it easier for public authorities to switch to open IT standards and helping them to avoid dependencies on individual IT suppliers. It estimates that the measures could potentially save taxpayers €1.1 billion annually, through effects such as allowing more suppliers to tender for contracts with better value bids, which has been shown to result in lower prices.
The Commission believes that many pubic authorities do not have the expertise required to recognise which IT standards are applicable in their particular case. In addition, they are often concerned that switching to an open standard will involve high initial expenditure or could result in data loss. Consequently, officials often cling to existing systems and tie themselves to a single large IT provider such as Microsoft for long periods.
The guidelines are intended to assist countries, regions and specific application sectors in developing an overarching IT strategy with fundamental rules for system compatibility, to make it easier for them to offer effective services to citizens. It also aims to give them guidance to enable them to "assess existing standards fairly and transparently" in order to simplify their choice. It proposes long-term planning for switching to open standards-based applications to enable migration costs to be better assessed and better absorbed.
To provide additional support to public authorities, the Commission is planning to organise meetings between public authorities, the IT sector, standardisation bodies and civil society to present information on areas such as proven transition procedures and common solutions. European Commissioner Neelie Kroes, whose responsibilities include the Digital Agenda, praised the approach, stating that, "Open standards create competition, lead to innovation and save money." Karsten Gerloff, President of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), urged Brussels to practice what it preaches and to open up its own desktop systems to competition from different suppliers.
In 2010, to placate the various opposing viewpoints, the Commission watered down its definition of open standards as part of the process of amending the EU framework for ensuring interoperability of e-government services. This permitted potential patent rights relating to standards to be licensed either under controversial FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms or to be licensed royalty free in a manner which "allows implementation in both proprietary and open source software".
(Stefan Krempl / djwm)