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30 March 2011, 15:27

UK ICT strategy offers "level playing field" to FOSS again

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Cabinet Office The UK Government's Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MP, has unveiled the coalition's ICT (Information and communications technology) strategy. The new strategy includes plans to "create a level playing field for open source software". Though this is a position previous administrations had aspired to, now the plan is backed up with "compulsory open standards," a new "streamlined procurement" regime, a cross-public "Applications Store" and an aggressive schedule for implementation of goals, from within six months to two years.

The drive for open standards means that recent procurement guidance that defined open standards as royalty free will have a far reaching effect on how open source solutions can compete. The strategy recognises this saying that, "Where appropriate, government will procure open source solutions. When used in conjunction with compulsory open standards, open source presents significant opportunities for the design and delivery of interoperable solutions." By using open standards for interoperability and security, the government hopes to be able to reuse more solutions within the different organisations which make up the government. Within six months, the administration aims to have created processes for managing open data standards.

For open source software, the government is planning the creation of a "toolkit for procurers" which will inform them of best practice "for evaluating the use of open source solutions". It will also create an Open Source Implementation Group, Open Source Advisory Panel and System Integrator forum which "will aim to educate, promote and facilitate the technical and cultural change needed to increase the use of open source across government". Both these goals are expected to be delivered within six months.

Changes to procurement, will attempt to open tenders to smaller businesses (SMEs) rather than channel work to the large system integrators. A presumption that non single project will be valued, over its life time, at more that £100 million should reduce risk of project failure and at the other end of the spectrum, tenders over £10,000 will be published along with details of SMEs to whom contracts were awarded.

Underlying the entire strategy is the desire for cost savings with a 35 per cent reduction in the cost of data centres across government planned within five years and how it will deliver "better public services for less cost". Maude's introduction cites the saving as "critical in order to reduce the structural deficit and continue to fund front-line services."

Tony Collins, co-founder of Campaign4Change (a think-tank which researches innovation within government), tweeted that the strategy had "good aims, but reads like a mission statement to self: I will eat health food etc". Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius IT, a UK open source integrator, who has led calls for more open source and free software use by government, replied, "To be honest, we've seen this checklist many times over the years. It's all about what happens in the real world now."


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