Chapter 3: International alignment

Policy background

Europe-wide standardisation can help to deliver interoperable services for citizens and businesses across borders and boost competitiveness of European businesses. The UK Government and the European Commission recognise that standards produce significant positive effects which benefit economies as a whole.

The Government is continuing to work with the European Union to ensure that its IT meets legal obligations and, where applicable, aligns with frameworks and strategies agreed at a European level, such as the European Interoperability Strategy and European Interoperability Framework, which improve the way Member States work across borders.  The UK policy on open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats is therefore intended to complement the European Interoperability Framework and supports its principle of openness to enable fair competition between open source and proprietary software.

The UK Government also works with other countries and standards setting bodies within and outside Europe to learn from, share and reuse the best solutions and standards. For instance, in the fields of health and defence, the Government must be able to interconnect and share data with international organisations.

The European CAMMS project (Common Assessment Method Standards and Specifications) is identifying criteria for assessing selection of standards for public procurement. The UK Government is involved in this project, which will conclude in 2012. CAMMS has identified a list of questions relating to business needs, standardisation and market criteria. The intention is to make assessments available between Member States, helping to reduce duplication and share learning.

European procurement law requires that technical specifications must also allow solutions to meet the required functionality by other means and allow equal access to suppliers, while not creating unjustifiable obstacles for opening up public procurement to competition.

The European Commission has tabled a proposal for reform of European Standardisation, which puts forward a change to recognise ICT standards developed by global ICT standards development organisations (such as W3C and OASIS) in public procurement, EU policies and legislation to encourage interoperability, stimulate innovation and exploit European competitiveness. The proposal requires that “public authorities should make best use of the full range of relevant standards when procuring hardware, software and information technology services, for example by selecting standards which can be implemented by all interested suppliers, allowing for more competition and reduced risk of lock-in.”  There are also measures to improve the transparency of standards setting bodies and to ensure that stakeholders, particularly Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), have appropriate representation.

Annex II of the proposal sets out the Requirements for Specifications in the Field of ICT, which incorporates telecommunications, covers the criteria for processes including openness, consensus and transparency. It also proposes terms for requirements that standards should meet relating to maintenance, availability, quality, relevance, neutrality, stability and intellectual property, including a requirement that: “intellectual property rights essential to the implementation of specifications are licensed to applicants on a (fair) reasonable and non discriminatory basis ((F)RAND), which includes, at the discretion of the intellectual property rightholder, licensing essential intellectual property without compensation”.

As part of the Commission’s Digital Agenda, it is also developing guidance on IT standards and public procurement to improve efficiency and reduce lock-in. The guidelines are available under consultation until 14 February 2012.

Proposed international alignment policy

1. Preference should be given to open standards with the broadest remit; international standards are preferred over local standards.

2. Specifications/standards in IT procurements must be compliant with Regulation 9 of the Public Contracts Regulations 2006.

3. The Government will consider the Requirements for the Recognition of Technical Specifications in the Field of ICT and the CAMMS selection criteria when considering the adoption or mandation of open standards.

4. The Government will fulfil international obligations and regulations relating to agreed standards for cross-border interoperability.

Potential benefits

  • Interoperability and shared solutions across Member States and international agencies
  • An open, competitive and innovative European market
  • A diverse market with fair access to government IT procurement opportunities