Bournemouth University‘s Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management (CIPPM) has produced an independent study on the costs and benefits of introducing an open standards policy for software interoperability, data and document formats in government IT requirements.
Key findings of the review are:
- Intellectual property rights (as they are applied to software standards) do not provide the right incentives for enabling interoperability.
- Royalty bearing software standards (FRAND) come with potential restrictions that are difficult to justify.
- For future IT procurement, the aim must be to encourage the use of royalty free (RF) standards to increase competition.
- Although open standards offer important benefits, including avoiding lock-in and improving interoperability and competition, careful implementation is required to optimise these benefits.
The note examines the quality, cost and security of OSS and considers government plans to adopt open standards.
A copy is available here.
Last updated: 22.05.2012 19:00
The UK Government is busy consulting on its proposed policy on the adoption of open standards. The consultation is open to everyone to contribute and will close on 4th June 2012.
It’s interesting how heated the topic of open standards can become – so we thought it might be useful to try to summarise various related online coverage to date. Let us know if we’ve missed anything and we’ll add it to the list that follows. We’ll also refresh this post from time to time to add any additional developments. (Some entries are undated, so we’ve done our best to put them in the right sequence based on their content).
- Welcome to the Open Standards Consultation – the official government consultation website, with full details of what the proposed policy is all about and how to comment and contribute
- Open Standards Open Opportunities. Alan Bell. 3 April 2012. The Open Sourcerer.
- US state of New Hampshire passes open source, open standards and open data bill. 6 April 2012. Bristol Wireless Blog.
- Are open standards a closed barrier? Linda Humphries. 12 April 2012. Government Digital Service blog entry.
- Proprietary lobby triumphs in first open standards showdown. Mark Ballard. 13 April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Government open standards proposal fails the ‘so what?’ test. Gerry Gavigan. April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- UK Open Standards Consultation. Jeni Tennison. 14 April 2012.
- An insider’s view on the government open standards consultation. Andy Hopkirk. April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Dev: keep government tech open source. We can’t let large corporates “buy UK policy”, says Richard Harvey. Craig Grannell. 16 April 2012. .net.
- How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards I. Glyn Moody. 16 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- BSA Wants Business Software Licences To Be Checked in VAT Audits. Glyn Moody. 17 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- Dear open standards lobby: SHOUT LOUDER!! Bryan Glick. 17 April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Ignore The Extremists In The Software Standards Wars. Simon Wardley. 17 April 2012. Forbes.
- Open standards are about the business model, not the technology. Mark Thompson. April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Keeping the UK Government Open. Angela Guess. 18 April 2012. Semantic Web.
- How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards II. Glyn Moody. 18 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- What open standards and open source mean to government and citizens. Liz Azyan. 18 April 2012. Open Gov Summit.
- Why RAND Is Bad For Open Source. Simon Phipps. 20 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- Make your voice heard in the open standards debate. Jane Silber. 20 April 2012. Canonical Blog.
- Does Microsoft Office Lock-in Cost the UK Government £500 Million? Glyn Moody. 20 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- Labour IT mandarins make comeback bid for global transformation. Mark Ballard. 24 April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Interview with Charles-H. Schulz on Open Standards. Glyn Moody, 24 April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- OSI Supports Open Standards. Simon Phipps. 25 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- The problem with standards, patents, and defining ‘open’. Stephen R. Walli. 26 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- FOI shows bureaucratic bungle behind open standards u-turn. Mark Ballard. 26 April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Open Standards consultation – important update. Liam Maxwell. 26 April 2012. Government Digital Service blog.
- Open standards consultation extended after conflict of interest emerges. Sade Laja. 27 April 2012. Guardian Government Computing.
- Government open standards advisor works for Microsoft. Stewart Mitchell. 27 April 2012. PC Pro.
- Redmond man unmasked: UK.gov open standards stalled. Findings scrapped after ‘conflict of interest’. Gavin Clarke. 27 April 2012. The Register.
- Microsoft link delays UK open standards consultation. Jack Clark. 27 April 2012. ZDNet UK.
- Microsoft accused of trying to secretly influence government consultation. Cabinet Office removes facilitator of free software discussions who was also advising tech giant. Charles Arthur. 27 April 2012. The Guardian.
- Open means open – why transparency matters. Bryan Glick. 27 April 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Conflict Of Interest Derails UK Open Source Consultation. Open source expert’s Microsoft involvement takes consultation back to square one. Peter Judge, Tom Jowett. 27 April 2012. TechWeek Europe.
- Conflict of interest forces Open Standards consultation extension. 27 April 2012. The H.
- Cabinet Office Acts On Discovery Of Undisclosed Conflict Of Interest. The UK Government Open Standards Consultation faces substantial change as the result of the exposure of an undisclosed Microsoft relationship. Simon Phipps. 27 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards III. Glyn Moody. 28 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- Open standards consultation extended after bias allegations. Graeme Burton. 30 April 2012. Computing.
- Open standards ‘bias’ – Microsoft confirms moderator was consultant in its employ. Chris Middleton. 30 April 2012. Computing.
- How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards IV. Glyn Moody. 30 April 2012. Computer World UK.
- Report: UK open standards bungle led to U-turn. 30 April 2012. The H.
- Conflict of interest feared in open standards consultation. 1 May 2012. Public Service.
- The UK’s battle for open standards. The UK Government is fighting for open standards, but it needs help. Simon Wardley. 2 May 2012. O’Reilly Radar.
- Software industry reclaims open standards debate. Mark Ballard. 3 May 2012. Computer Weekly.
- How to Get Banned from Public Procurement. Chris Francis. 4 May 2012.
- UK Government Consultation on Open Standards. Phil Archer. 7 May 2012.
- Microsoft’s price hike could hardly be worse timing. Bryan Glick. 4 May 2012. Computer Weekly.
- UK Government should start implementing its open standards policy. Epractice.eu. 4 May 2012.
- UK Open Standards experts publish joint statement on Government consultation. OpenForum Europe. Undated.
- Dear Cabinet Office… about your Open Standards Board. Gerry Gavigan. 4 May 2012. Open Source Consortium.
- UK Open Standards consultation – workshop on IPRs. Jochen Freidrich. 4 May 2012.
- I’m from the Government and I’m here to help. Ross Anderson. 12 May 2012. Light Blue Touchpaper.
- How Microsoft Fought True Open Standards V. Glyn Moody. 14 May 2012. Computer World UK.
- The folly of picking winners in ICT. Keith Mallinson. 16 May 2012. IP finance.
- Open Standards Consultation Nearing Close. Simon Phipps. 18 May 2012. Computer World UK.
- Your last chance to influence government open standards. Bryan Glick. 21 May 2012. Computer Weekly.
- Analyst Note: Why aren’t you passionate about open standards? Jon Collins. 22 May 2012. Public Technology.NET.
- … tbc
The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) has published an update (PDF) to its earlier report “Government and IT – “a recipe for rip-offs”: Time for a New Approach” (PDF).
The Committee commends the Government for its generally constructive and proactive response, but points out key areas where the Government’s intended course of action will not be sufficient to address “the scale of behavioural and process change required across government” to achieve its own aims of becoming an “intelligent” customer.
On one point in particular, the failure to respond at all to the Committee’s call for an investigation into the charge that the large systems integrators operate in the manner of a cartel, the Committee is particularly critical. Given the evidence cited in the original report, the Committee’s frustration is understandable. Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee has called again for an independent investigation into allegations of cartel-like behaviour among the major systems integrators, which itself may prove structural rather than deliberate. He also indicated that the Committee would return to this specific issue if the matter is not now addressed by the Government.
Overall, the Committee appears favourable towards the Government’s plans to develop its capacity in commercial skills for procuring and managing contracts, not just technical IT skills, in order to become an ‘intelligent customer’. However, the Committee has concerns that the Government’s plans may not be adequate to cope with the scale of behavioural and process change required across the whole of Government, nor that the new Civil Service champions of ‘agile development’ will have sufficient seniority, expertise or support.
The challenge for the Government now is to successfully execute its strategy to radically improve IT and deliver better for less: moving from the ‘what’ to the ‘how’.
The report is a pragmatic and rational contribution to the debate – and timely, with the need for governments to massively reduce public spending without impacting critical public services. Despite the need for all organisations to understand where and why their limited budgets are spent, the report notes, perhaps surprisingly, that “not many organisations maintain a data set that can estimate TCO with much reliability or offer robust comparative evidence.” (p4)
The report presents a variety of evidence broadly supportive of open source including:
- “when people with experience apply their judgement to the question of TCO many are clear that cost advantages – cost saving and cost avoidance – are achievable [with open source software], and case studies support this contention. (p5)
- softer benefits of open source adoption are also widely appreciated – those of flexibility, openness, ability to tweak and customize, and support for open standards and open data – altogether a more open and accessible software environment. This broader vision is where the enduring benefits and associated cost reductions are often seen to come from.(p5)
- adoption and development of open source can support the sharing of both expertise and expense between government bodies, for example among local authorities facing very similar needs.(p5)
It also notes some of the challenges, including:
- Open source adopters do note that they needed to hire experts and look for support to meet their organisation’s ambitions including for control of code and configuration, and taking more direct control of their infrastructure to allow agile innovative responses to changing needs.(p5)
- Pragmatism needs to guide open source adoption and not ideology.(p6)
- Migrating to open source is more likely to be successful if it is done when there is a real and present need for change or a new approach, rather than simply on the basis of finding open source attractive on infrastructure cost arguments.(p6)
Importantly, it found that many believe that “if open source is to become an accepted and substantial part of information systems activity within the public sector then it needs government-level policies to sustain the change including an overhaul of procurement processes and practices.” (p5) And in the context of current government policy to strengthen the IT profession, “adoption of open source can be part of building a more agile organisation able to innovate and respond to change. It can also be part of (re)building in-house expertise and regaining control.” (p6)
Not only do organisations need to start adopting systematic TCO models in their current operations. They also need to be factoring in the costs of exit to current and future purchasing decisions at the time solutions are being evaluated. Later complexity and expenditure in migrating away from solutions, and the extent of lock-in to a particular product or supplier, are part of the life-cycle costs of acquisition – not something to be loaded onto a subsequent product or supplier. This is why the UK government’s recent initiatives around the use of open standards is of particular significance.
Unfortunately absent from the report are the more macro economic TCO issues that arise for governments. For example, the very different economic impacts that expenditure placed with companies who select to pay their business taxes in a country other than the one in which the procurement takes place. So, for example, £20m expended with a supplier by the government in the UK takes on a very different economic impact, and macro TCO footprint, if that £20m exits the country without any return to the exchequer or other UK businesses, when compared to £20m spent with a UK headquartered business paying UK-based business taxes.
Whilst European law understandably insists on a level and non-discriminatory playing field, taking account of these wider economic factors in assessing TCO for governments is likely to become increasingly important as governments seek to stimulate their domestic economies and boost economic growth. This new report from the LSE should help to open up broader discussion about the most appropriate TCO models for organisations and governments to use. At present, it appears we remain some distance from establishing generally accepted TCO models at both micro, and macro, economic levels.
The Cabinet Office has published the Government’s Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for its earlier ICT Strategy. It aims to deliver better public services for less. The intention is to re-use and share ICT assets; to improve productivity and efficiency; and to reduce waste and the likelihood of project failure.
The SIP is available here.
Government information technology (IT) is under relentless scrutiny and reform. Barely a month seems to pass at the moment when either another organisation issues a report on the topic, or the Cabinet Office announces a new initiative or appointment.
Recently, for example, we’ve had the National Audit Office‘s “Information and Communications Technology in Government Landscape Review” and the Institute for Government‘s “System Error: fixing the flaws in Government IT“. And the Cabinet Office has hardly been idle either, announcing initiatives ranging from the opening up of public services, to the appointment of a new Director of ICT Futures and the saving of over £1bn on procurement.
In June, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published their short report Information and Communications Technology in Government. It took the view that
ICT is not well enough embedded in departments’ business, and as a result not enough reform programmes have had ICT at the core. Problems have arisen where expectations for systems are too grand and the proposals from suppliers are unrealistic. Projects have been too big, too long, too ambitious and out of date by the time the ICT is implemented
This misalignment between the business of government, the effective design and operation of public services, and the use of IT was also a common theme in evidence provided during the more recent Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) review of Government IT, whose report – “Government and IT. ‘A recipe for rip-offs’: Time for a new approach” – is published today.
Their inquiry also found that only a few departments have CIOs on their boards, raising questions, in an age of “digital by default“, about where and how civil service management teams obtain their understanding of, and insight into, the effective use of information systems and their integration into their business plans. The PASC report found that
the Government needs to possess the necessary skills and knowledge in-house, to manage suppliers and understand the potential IT has to transform the services it delivers. Currently the outsourcing of the government’s IT service means that many civil service staff, along with their knowledge, skills, networks and infrastructure has been transferred to suppliers. The Government needs to rebuild this capacity urgently.
Importantly, they also emphasised that IT should not be regarded as somehow separate from public services (as something that happens “over there”, conducted only by a technical elite), but rather that:
Knowledge about how modern information systems and technology can be used to improve public services should not be restricted to the IT profession – this knowledge is essential to the work of all senior civil servants responsible for designing and delivering policy. The Government should explore how departmental boards and senior officials can best benefit from professional training and support in technology policy. A systematic programme to improve these skills across the senior civil service would also help support the Government’s aim of ensuring public services become “digital by default” by improving the integration of technology and policy throughout the policy-making process.
The issue of the cultural changes needed to help drive a more successful use of IT in Government was touched upon during the oral evidence with the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP (Q.483+), where the Minister stated
I am always a bit sceptical about trying to achieve cultural change. I think the thing to do is try to change behaviour and, out of changed behaviour, a different culture emerges… you do not achieve cultural change by trying to change the culture; you achieve it by changing behaviours, and the culture change follows from the behaviour change
The key action now is for Government to distil these numerous reviews, reports and recommendations into a short, actionable plan that can deliver successful outcomes. This will start with a determined effort to improve its baseline data – as the PASC report observes:
The Government’s own information about its IT is woefully inadequate. This lack of data means that governments have failed to benchmark the price it pays for IT goods and services; this data must be collected centrally to allow the Government to obtain the best possible price from the market.
Importantly it also calls for:
All IT procurement contracts [to] be published in full to ensure transparency and restore trust. This would allow external experts to challenge current practices and identify ways services could be delivered differently as well as more economically.
And, with the majority of major IT expenditure committed within existing contracts, the report says that Government should use such information and transparency to help:
… challenge and hold to account current providers, and … renegotiate, disaggregate and re-compete existing contracts where it becomes clear that more cost effective delivery mechanisms are available.
The Committee raise disturbing issues aired during their inquiry, ranging from claims of a “cartel” made during oral evidence to an over-reliance on an “oligopoly” of large suppliers. Addressing this apparent distortion of an effective, open marketplace in the supply and provision of IT services in the public sector forms another key recommendation in the PASC report, namely the need to:
Widen … the supplier base. The Government must expand its supplier base by promoting fair and open competition and engaging with innovative SMEs. To widen the supplier base the Government needs to reduce the size of its contracts and greatly simplify the procurement process. It must also adopt common standards and ensure that systems interoperate to eliminate over-reliance on a small group of suppliers, and commoditise where possible. Most importantly, departments need the capacity to deal directly with a wider range of suppliers, especially SMEs.
The Committee also request an independent investigation into allegations made during its inquiry:
The Government should urgently commission an independent, external investigation to determine whether there is substance to these serious allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and collusion. The Government should also provide a trusted and independent escalation route to enable SMEs confidentially to raise allegations of malpractice.
These various reports, and the ongoing Cabinet Office commitment to reform, suggest that Government IT still has a major period of significant change ahead. If suppliers thought the recent round of negotiations aimed at securing cost efficiencies and savings were the end game, they will need to think again. The direction of travel is clear: what remains less clear at present are the mechanisms to be used to drive the necessary outcomes. Whether for example the Government will adopt measures to prioritise small firms to give them guaranteed amounts of work until the market becomes more balanced. And how the behavioural and cultural changes will be incentivised and delivered.
With several major policy programmes in development, such as Universal Credits and Real Time Information, there is a clear opportunity for the Government to apply the lessons learned and recommendations made across recent reports and inquiries – and to deliver policy outcomes that show the real potential of IT in helping improve the quality and efficiency of our public services.
We await the Government’s official response to the new PASC report with interest.