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16 June 2011, 15:40

UK open standards commitment cut back

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Cabinet Office Bill McCcluggage, deputy government CIO and Cabinet Office director of ICT policy, has sharply curtailed the government's previous plans to mandate royalty-free open standards. According to reports, McCluggage was speaking to the Guardian Computing Conference in London when he said that the government only intends to implement a handful of open standards.

Referring to government ICT policy, McCluggage said "It doesn't say we will mandate all open standard, it says we will decide upon a series of open standards and then we will decide which ones to almost fixate upon in terms of delivery."

Although the policy described by McCluggage may have a better chance of success, it is a step back from the previous policy declaration of open standards mandated across government. That policy had already drawn criticism from standards organisations who objected to the royalty-free element of the UK Government policy.

McCluggage reportedly acknowledged a confusion between definitions of open standards and open source software and that the Cabinet Office is having problems developing a plan for the future because of that confusion. The civil servant referred to having to "remove various knives from my back" after a recent consultation exercise on standards, which brought in 1,000 responses and triggered inter-departmental friction.

Open standards and open source software were, McCluggage said, still crucial for the government's ICT policy, along with plans for a common ICT infrastructure, and reforming the supply of ICT to remove the power of what has been called an "oligopoly" and breaking supplier lock-in.

Mark Taylor, CEO of Sirius Technology, who campaigns for more transparent government ICT said that taken as a whole, McCluggage had given "a good speech, with plenty of positives for Open Source and Open Standards, and a renewed promise to keep to the timeline for the Cabinet Office's action plan."

Taylor noted though that the comments about knives in backs indicated that the "oligopoly clearly still has a lot to say" about the policy direction. "If this really is the start of backtracking on the Open Standards commitment", Taylor warned, "the reforms are in trouble, and taxpayer money in quantities that makes the MPs' expense scandal look like pocket change is going to continue to get wasted."


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