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

The software industry lobbying group has attacked the UK government's push for open standards, claiming it will reduce choice and hinder innovation
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

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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