UK Gov ICT – the future includes Finland (still not in a good way)

FSFE Finland is considering taking the Finnish government to Court to enforce the rules on procurement; among other things looking to enforce specifications based on functionalities and standards, rather than specific products or certain brands.

So first the Slovakian government is taken to Court because of a compulsory requirement to use Microsoft and now Finland also in the EU and again there are some interesting parallels for the way UK public sector ICT is procured.

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When is a saving not a saving? (plus ça change)

We were not particularly whelmed that the government used the threat of adopting open source software simply as a bargaining tool to get a few Microsoft licences free of charge. Particularly as we think it amounts to illegal state aid. However, given that the government has just announced it has saved £65m on software licence negotiations with Microsoft and Oracle we mustn’t grumble…

But has it?

Continue reading When is a saving not a saving? (plus ça change)

Open Standards Consultation Response

Cabinet Office Open Standards Consultation: Our Response

Much of our research and analysis is contained in our recently published report on the importance of royalty free standards in public sector ICT.

Overall we find the consultation to be poorly framed and fails to identify:

  • The effects of the existing policy (the problem identified)
  • The absence of a single formal document delineating the scope of policy relating to the specification and implementation of ICT in the public sector cannot be taken to infer that there is not an existing policy as represented by the sum total of procedure, custom and practice (commission or omission).
  • The intentions of a new policy (the solution proposed)
  • Government should seek to identify the interacting nature of its policy choices and account for their effects.

We are unaware of any economic assessment undertaken in preparation for this consultation and government cannot easily second-guess these values. Such absence might explain the lack of any sense of urgency, neither any proposals for action nor for implementation.

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Dear Cabinet Office… about your Open Standards Board

At the end of a long second round table meeting to discuss the government’s open standards consultation one of your officials took the opportunity to “sell-in” the shiny new open standards board. She seemed surprised when I pointed out that this initiative cut across the consultation. So, as promised, here’s my explanation.

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Royalty Free Open Standards – a report

An OSC paper explaining why royalty free open standards are essential for reducing public sector ICT expenditure and illustrating the vital role that public sector ICT could play as a source of innovation and growth in the economy.

Growth, innovation and creation have come about largely through the ability to interact easily with minimal transaction costs, delivered by using royalty free open standards.

This is not the case with online public services. If these services ever were avoidable, now they are being promoted or imposed upon the user. Unlike the Internet or the web, online public services constrain the user regarding their choice of software through the use of proprietary software standards.

When the public sector does not adopt royalty free open standards for software:

  • the public sector is less able to reduce its dependence on a small group of suppliers (an “oligopoly” with all the attendant risks)
  • users of online public services are constrained in their choice of software
  • users of online public services become locked in to a small group of suppliers
  • online services constrain innovation and growth in the knowledge economy

We have published a report on the wider importance of royalty free open standards and you can download it here (65 pages, pdf, approx 1.8MByte).

Open Standards: it’s the network effect, stupid

A new policy procurement note has just been issued as part of the process of reforming government ICT procurement, and it includes references to open standards (when they work out what that means) and open source software.

As before they are to be used it all hinges on what you mean by “whenever possible” not forgetting that “wherever possible” includes “nowhere”.

In passing we note that in future, contracts are to be capped at £100 million except when they aren’t but what we really want to discuss is the advice in paragraph 11.4:

  • The use of open source and open standards should be used whenever possible and where it represents a value for money solution, allowing department to re-use code, designs, templates and ensuring that work is not duplicated.

because we’re not sure it offers any advice at all and not because of “wherever possible”

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Open Standards for Open Government?

Open Standards for Open Government?

Monday 30 April 2012, London

The Policy Exchange is holding an open event discussing the role of open standards in UK public policy: Open standards for open government?


  • Adam Afriyie MP | Shadow Minister for Science and Innovation, 2007-2010 | Chair of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and President of the Conservative Technology Forum
  • Dr Chris Francis | Technical Relations, IBM
  • Stephen Mutkoski | Worldwide Policy Director, International Government Affairs, Microsoft
  • Phil Archer | Technology and Society, W3C
  • Gerry Gavigan | Chair of the Open Source Consortium
  • Chaired by Chris Yiu | Head of the Digital Government Unit at Policy Exchange


Continue reading Open Standards for Open Government?