BSA: Open standards will 'increase e-government costs'

BSA: Open standards will 'increase e-government costs'

Summary: The software industry lobbying group has attacked the UK government's push for open standards, claiming it will reduce choice and hinder innovation


The government will see its IT costs rise because it has chosen to get behind open standards, the Business Software Alliance has argued.

Cabinet Office

The BSA has reacted strongly to a Cabinet Office memo urging the adoption of open standards in government. Photo credit: Syniq on Flickr

Government departments were told in a Cabinet Office policy note (PDF) dated 31 January that they "should wherever possible deploy open standards in their procurement specifications". In its note, it defined open standards at those that are "publicly available at zero or low cost" and that have "intellectual property made irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis".

On Tuesday, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) lashed out at the policy, which puts software companies with proprietary standards at a disadvantage.

"BSA strongly supports open standards as a driver of interoperability; but we are deeply concerned that by seeking to define openness in a way which requires industry to give up its intellectual property, the UK government's new policy will inadvertently reduce choice, hinder innovation and increase the costs of e-government," said the lobbying group, which represents many proprietary software companies.

European Interoperability Framework

The BSA urged the government to "align itself with the best practices recently endorsed by the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), which examined this very issue over a two-year consultation involving all stakeholders".

The second version of the EIF (EIFv2), adopted by the European Commission in December, recommended that "when establishing European public services, public administrations should prefer open specifications, taking due account of the coverage of functional needs, maturity and market support".

However, open-source advocates such as the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) complained that the EIFv2, compared with the first version, showed the Commission had abandoned the idea of mandating open standards as a "key enabler for interoperability".

Mark Taylor, chief executive of the open-source systems integration firm Sirius, said the BSA's response to the government policy note was "rubbish" and "absolutely predictable".

"A lot of time and effort was spent by those particular interests lobbying in Brussels," Taylor told ZDNet UK. "EIFv2 was definitely a step back from EIFv1."

The BSA said that the EIFv2 created a "level-playing field" for all types of software, including open source, to compete in providing the public sector with interoperable solutions. According to Taylor, this statement is "not true" and the new European recommendation is "discriminatory against open source".

"Fortunately, the UK government is one of the governments that had identified that," Taylor said. "If EIFv2 hadn't been a step backwards, there would be no need for governments like the UK government to come out with these policies."

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Topics: Government UK, Legal, Piracy

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Why does the BSA not just take a hike go to America get into bed with M$ Corp and stay there we have zero need or want of their crass interventions in the UK . They do not like Open Standards because they can make no money out of them well sorry but see ya tara enjoy your time getting your butt creamed in America don't call us we will call you IF you ever become relevant again that is
  • Isn't the first time the BSA spews FUD for their own short-term gains. What's stopping companies from implementing open standards and selling the (according to the BSA obviously superior because proprietary) resulting software? Claiming that this is somehow not feasible or even more expensive than undocumented proprietary closed formats causing massive vendor lock-in is laughable on its face. Even before the ridiculous claim that conforming to open standards would mean giving up intelectual property. That simply is entirely false, untrue, a lie, and a shame they dare utter yet another falsehood.

    And that is before considering archiving. This is government we're talking about, so ten or twenty years down the road the files must still be readable. Without open specifications, that's going to be extremely costly in time and money both. Or is the BSA going to claim their members will support the very same format for that long, when some of their biggest members have already shown that their 2007 office suite simply wasn't compatible with their very own 2003 office suite file formats? That is what open standards are about. Everybody but the BSA would understand being able to read your own data twenty years after still to be a good thing.

    Therefore I submit that it is in our own best interest as citizens to ask the government to not listen to the BSA in the future. The "BS" of this Alliance isn't about Business Software, but rather more vulgar.
  • The BSA are purely responding in line with their commercial self-interest.

    I applaud any government that promotes open standards and encourages wider use of open source software. It is the best way forward for innovation, flexibility, value and vendor-independence for delivering software for the public sector.
  • Your headline is misleading. BSA state clearly that they support open standards. The concern is that if public procurement forces *only* open standard-based solutions, it is cutting out the possibility of perfectly acceptable solutions to particular problems that may not be open standards based.
    The issue is to allow procurers to assess what solution is fit for purpose whilst keeping a overall preference for open standards where available and appropriate to the problem at hand.
    Remember that POSIX and UNIX are the only two standards-based O/Ses (also demonstrating that there *is* often more than one standard available for any particular problem) but I don't see procurers rushing to demand for It infrastructure using an officially standardised OS!
  • The only difference is that BSA defines open standard differently. The BSA allows for IPR in theor definition of open standard. We will likely always have proprietary formats, but trying to hijack the definition of "open" to allow for things that arguably hinders implementation in software just makes me sad.
  • Many 'open standards' accept IPR, always have done, probably always will - that is a red herring. The issue is to ensure that standards are adopted according to open and sustainable processes and without barriers to getting involved - knowing up front what you are getting into, what IPR claims exist and what obligations you might incur is important.
    (In full disclosure, I am Chairman of an open standards consortium).
  • > In full disclosure, I am Chairman of an open standards consortium.

    No, "full disclosure" would be saying which consortium you are talking about. That way, we could be sure that we are all agreeing on what an "open standard" actually is.

    Are you also affiliated with the BSA in any way? That would come under the banner of "full disclosure" too, as would posting under your own name.
  • Fair comment - I am Chairman of OASIS, a global open standards consortium.
    I don't see how "knowing which consortium we are talking about" means we agree on what open standards is defined as, but I pass.
    No, I am not affiliated in any way with BSA.
  • Fair comment: I am Chairman of the Board of OASIS - and you don't get more open standard than that, by anyone's definition! ;-)
    And, no, I am not in any way affilaited with BSA. I have my own opinions - I don't need someone else to formulate them for me, thank you!