Fresh out of a roundtable discussion on the Open Standards: Open Opportunities consultation, Linda Humphries discusses whether open can really mean closed.
Ask a seemingly simple question, 'So what exactly is an open standard?' and a multitude of variations and interpretations are likely to head your way – a quick scan of Wikipedia will give you a flavour. So how do we decide which definition is right for the Government when we are applying it to our IT?
The trick is to look at what we're trying to achieve.
In the Government's IT systems we're looking to cut costs. We think that by improving connectivity across government systems we'll be able to share more solutions. That should help us to reduce how much we need to buy. We also want to make sure that we have flexibility and choice when we buy IT, so that we don't get locked in with one supplier or one product. Lots of competition and diversity should give us the opportunity to swap between suppliers and to get better services at a lower cost. Additionally, let's not forget the Government's key commitment to levelling the playing field for open source software, making sure that there is fair access to opportunities for both proprietary and open source software providers in government IT procurement.
In essence, what we're looking for is software interoperability and a way of moving coherent information and data freely between systems.
So now we're clear on what we're trying to do, the definition should be a doddle, right? Not so. We first set out over a year ago by providing a definition and then opening up a survey to get some feedback (PDF). That gave us a great start in refining our definition and led to a lot of debate around patents, the impact of mandating standards and how we align with European and international initiatives. We took that on board and launched a public consultation in February, which includes a revised definition and asks some more searching questions to help us dig further into the issues. The material we gathered from the survey we'll be taking on board as part of the evidence but as we now have a new definition and some searching questions to consider, we need you to take another look.
The questions that the consultation poses are complex, so we have also arranged some events to give people the opportunity to explore and debate the topics.
The first roundtable event, which took place last week, focussed on Competition and European Interaction. The consensus was that the definition and proposed policy would be detrimental to competition and innovation and a mandatory list of open standards could in fact be a closed barrier.
The majority of the attendees considered that open standards, as defined in the policy, would close down the Government's ability to benefit from an alternative standards development model and limit our choice – not least because they considered that the definition excludes standards that are made available on Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) terms.
Let us know if you agree. You can get involved in the online consultation or look out for more events and sign up to join in with one of the debates, or you can keep in touch with us on Twitter: @ICT_Futures
Finally, please don't be daunted, we know the questions are tough. That's why we need your help to get the answers right. You don't have to respond to all the questions, if there is just one you have a case study for, or if you feel strongly about a particular topic but only have time to answer a couple of the questions, we'd still love to hear from you.