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Open standards drive needed in risk-averse public sector says govt Digital Director

Open standards drive needed in risk-averse public sector says govt Digital Director

If it is good enough for NASA, it is good enough for Whitehall

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Public sector organisations need to quicken adoption of open source and open standards software in order to meet government aims for digitising services, Cabinet Office Director for Digital Mike Bracken has said.

Speaking at the Government ICT conference in London this week, Bracken warned that a bigger push is needed in order to introduce a wave of digital services during this parliament, including digitising hundreds of thousands of transactions across government.

Last November departments were told they must comply with Open Standards Principles (OSPs) in order to enable interoperability and reduce costs.   However Bracken said more needs to be done to open the doors to innovative technologies that will enable a swift IT transformation.

"There are a bunch of companies, [and] open source open standards services that we really need to plug into this government system if we are going to transform these transactions as quickly as we need to do," he said.

Bracken highlighted tools such as Hadoop and Solr and a variety of companies which had been used to build GOV.UK, suggesting that they should be used by more IT managers across all parts of government.

"There is an entirely new way of approaching how we build  government services, but only if they are built on open standards, and open source," he said.

Bracken explained that one of the criticisms levelled at the introduction of new open source service providers is that they are not well known.  However he said that this is a "self-fulfilling prophecy" as such companies are not usually given an initial chance in the public sector.

"We will never hear of them if we don't let them in the door.  Outside of government these companies and these technologies are actually running major parts of services that we all use."

Bracken cited Intel, Ford, Disney and NASA as some of the major organisations outside of the UK public sector which had already used open source and open standards technologies to replace their enterprise level technologies, adding that there should be no reticence about looking to innovative services that are perhaps less well known and established.

"If NASA can use [a new open source service] then one of the sub-departments in one of our agencies can use it," he said.

The Cabinet Office has previously put in place a wide ranging strategy to offer digital services to end users, such as the introduction of the single domain GOV.UK site, with each department required to produce a digital strategy plan.

Last week Bracken said that departmental policy had been slowing the delivery of the digital strategy, warning in a blog post of a "risk-averse" attitude in policy directives.

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