Sometimes it seems like I've written the same story about UK government IT plans again and again. You know the one: after years of empty promises, the UK government assures us that this time is will really open up, embracing open source and openness in all its forms.
Guess what? They're at it again:
We want government ICT to be open: open to the people and organisations that use our services; and open to any provider – regardless of size.
Where appropriate, government will procure open source solutions. When used in conjunction with compulsory open standards, open source presents significant opportunities for the design and delivery of interoperable solutions.
Here's a little more detail about the open standards idea:
The Government will create a common and secure ICT infrastructure based on a suite of agreed, open standards which will be published and updated. The use of common standards can make ICT solutions fully interoperable to allow for reuse, sharing and scalability across organisational boundaries into local delivery chains. The adoption of compulsory open standards will help government to avoid lengthy vendor lock-in, allowing the transfer of services or suppliers without excessive transition costs, loss of data or significant functionality.
Now, to be fair, that shows a nice understanding of the value of truly open standards that goes beyond previous commitments. But of course it all rather depends on what the government actually means by the term "open standards".
And here there is a ray of hope. For as I reported a month ago, the Cabinet Office has settled on a rather good definition of open standards that includes the key phrase "have intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty free basis", which does create a truly level playing-field that allows open source to compete fairly.
Of course, as far as open source is concerned, we still have the get-out phrase "where appropriate" in the strategy, which gives huge leeway to those involved in procurement. And, as I mentioned at the beginning of the this article, at this stage, this is merely yet another set of promises.
However, those fine words have, rather remarkably, buttered at least one parsnip. On the main UK Government ICT Strategy resources home page, the strategy document is available in three formats: as a PDF, a Microsoft Word file – and an OpenOffice/LibreOffice ODT file. I think that's the first time such a major government item has been available in this open format: kudos to all concerned for doing so.
Let's hope it really marks the beginning of a new era of openness in UK government IT – and that I won't have to write this article ever again.