Since yesterday all Government bodies have been required to ensure that they comply with new 'open standards principles' (33-page / 401KB PDF) for "software interoperability" and "data and document formats in Government IT". The bodies can apply for the right to be exempt from the requirement in individual circumstances.
"When specifying IT requirements for software interoperability, data and document formats, government bodies must request that open standards adhering to the definition described in this policy are adopted, subject to the principle of equivalence," according to the Government's adopted open standards principles document. "Whether they are designed and built in-house or outsourced, Government bodies must require solutions that comply with open standards, for software interoperability, data and document formats, where they exist and meet functional needs, unless there is a robust and transparent reason why this is inappropriate."
"Frameworks for Government IT procurements, where applicable, must specify that open standards for software interoperability, data and document formats should be implemented, subject to the principle of equivalence, unless there is a clear business need why an open standard is inappropriate and an exemption has been agreed. When specifying IT standards, Government bodies must ensure that they are compliant with European Regulations," it said.
The open standards principles have been established following a Cabinet Office consultation on the issue earlier this year and require, among other things, that Government bodies' choice of software and IT formats enables everyone to "interact with the Government, exchanging appropriately formatted information/data using the software package of their choice".
"They must not have costs imposed upon them, or be digitally excluded by the IT choices which the Government makes, beyond those which may reasonably be associated with accessing digitally provided services," according to the open standards principles document published by the Government.
The open standards principles also require that Government bodies choice of software and IT formats "support flexibility and change", are "well informed" and selection "using fair and transparent processes" and that they act fairly and transparently when specifying and implementing open standards. Users should also be placed "at the heart" of the Government's choices, the principles require.
"Government must be better connected to the people it serves and partners who can work with it - especially small businesses, voluntary and community organisations," Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said in a statement. "Having open information and software that can be used across government departments will result in lower licensing costs in government IT, and reduce the cost of lock-in to suppliers and products."
"It is only right that we are encouraging competition and creating a level playing field for all companies to ensure we are getting the best price for the taxpayer," he added.
The Cabinet Office said that the public and "IT community" had given "overwhelming" support to "setting an open standards policy for software interoperability, data and document formats" with about 70% of its consultations believing that the new principles would "improve innovation, competition and choice in the provision of government service" and "help improve value for money".
"The principles will help Government to deliver more innovative IT services and further drive savings and encourage more competition for government contracts," the Cabinet Office said.