This section outlines previous strategy and policy activity relating to open standards in government IT.

The e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF), last updated in March 2005, contained the Government’s policies and specifications for achieving interoperability. e-GIF policies mandated adherence to its Technical Standards Catalogue throughout the public sector. The Technical Standards Catalogue was last updated in September 2005.

The Open Source, Open Standards And Re-Use: Government Action Plan, published in February 2009, set out the open standards policy: “The Government will use open standards in its procurement specifications and require solutions to comply with open standards. The Government will support the development of open standards and specifications.”

The Government ICT Strategy (March 2011) committed the Government to creating a common and secure IT infrastructure based on a suite of agreed, open standards to deliver:

  • a diverse, competitive market for government IT that delivers a level playing field for open source and proprietary software providers;
  • economic efficiency in the delivery of government IT;
    better connectivity and reuse across government and with delivery partners.

To help address these challenges, the Government will impose compulsory open standards. The mandation of specific open standards will:

  • make IT solutions fully interoperable to allow for reuse, sharing and scalability across organisational boundaries and delivery chains;
  • help the Government to avoid lengthy vendor lock-in, allowing transfer of services or suppliers without excessive transition costs, loss of data or functionality.

The Strategic Implementation Plan, published in October 2011, describes the milestones and objectives that will deliver the strategy, including a reference architecture and a suite of open technical and data standards.

The Cabinet Office published a consultation on open data, Making Open Data Real, on August 4, 2011. The consultation was focused on making the Government more open using open data and transparency. The Cabinet Office will be publishing its response to the consultation in a white paper, due for publication in the spring. It will outline the Government’s strategic approach to open data and transparency across the lifetime of this Parliament.

In January 2011, the Government first set out its full definition of an open standard in the context of government IT procurement, in Procurement Policy Note (03/11),  Use of open standards when specifying ICT requirements. Following the outcome of the UK Government Open Standards Survey, published in November 2011, Cabinet Office has since replaced PPN 03/11 with PPN 09/11, which highlights that this consultation will take place.

The open standard consultation is a technically complex area with active debate in industry and between national governments on how to define the term open standard and the impact that different definitions might have on the efficiency of government IT and on the supply chain. Through this formal consultation, the Cabinet Office is seeking to refine and clarify the policy relating to open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats in the Government’s IT specifications and to investigate additional issues which were highlighted in the feedback to the 2011 Open Standards Survey, including the impact that mandation of open standards might have on competition. The consultation does not cover the specification of broader information and communications technology standards, such as hardware or telecommunications. Additionally, the Government’s support for standards in the wider economy, beyond their use in government procurement, is outside of the scope of this consultation.

All relevant information gathered to date, including data from the survey and written contributions sent to the Cabinet Office, will be part of the material that will be considered in making the decision. During and since the informal consultation, key stakeholders have been consulted to discuss the issues that need to be considered, including HM Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, industry bodies and suppliers.