The UK government recently issued a procurement policy note available on the UK government website. It is a very clear and crisp policy document, only two pages long, taking a clear stance on openness and interoperability and requiring to reference open standards in public tenders whenever possible. This is what items 4 and 5 of the policy very clearly say:
“4. Government assets should be interoperable and open for re-use in order to maximise return on investment, avoid technological lock-in, reduce operational risk in ICT projects and provide responsive services for citizens and businesses.
5. For this reason, Government departments should ensure that they include open standards in their ICT procurement specifications unless there are clear business reasons why this is inappropriate.”And the document continues to provide a similarly clear and straight forward open standards definition with four key elements. In essence – and in my own words – an open standard must be: (i) developed in an open standards development process; (ii) approved by a well established standards development organisation; (iii) thoroughly documented and publicly available at zero or low cost; and (iv) available for implementation under IPR Royalty-free licensing terms.
In this way the UK procurement policy exactly prescribes what is needed in the area of eGovernment services and software interoperability where Open Source software plays an important role. The open standards policy allows the integration of Open Source on equal footing with proprietary offerings.
But more: open standards are also a key element for service orientation and promoting innovation and choice and fostering competition. Open Standards provide a level basis on which to innovate. They allow everyone to compete fairly and on equal terms with new or better products and offerings. And they allow the seamless integration of technologies into an open architecture thus providing the space for innovative technologies and products to be made available to and driven by public authorities.
There is only one element on which this UK procurement policy could be more clear: that is the focus on software interoperability. While this is obvious from the context it is not entirely clear in the text.
Nonetheless, this procurement policy is a major step forward in a leading Member State of the EU. The UK government shows strong leadership with this. I am sure this will create an impressive drive for eGovernment and government transformation in the UK and far beyond.