The government is to trial XML interoperability standards that will allow different departmental e-procurement systems to talk to each other.
Whitehall procurement body the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) had initially planned to develop its own system that could be used as a model by other departments in an effort to prevent interoperability arising from a disparate collection of e-procurement systems.
Although the OGC is still pressing ahead with its own internal purchasing system it admitted the focus has now shifted to developing a common XML language that will allow different systems to communicate, because it doesn't have the power to tell departments which software packages to choose.
Martin Day, spokesman for the OGC, told silicon.com: "We can't take away that choice from individual departments. It shows preference and we just don't have the teeth to do that. And even if we could mandate across government there is no way we can mandate across the supplier base."
The trial is being run in conjunction with the Business Applications Software Developers Association (Basda) members Agresso, Capita, Microsoft, Oracle, Sage and SAP and, if successful, will contribute towards the £3bn in procurement savings the OGC is tasked with making over the next three years.
The aim is to make it easier for government departments and suppliers to do business over the Internet regardless of which software they use and to give smaller and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) the ability to compete online for government contracts, according to Day.
"That is just going to open up the government marketplace to a phenomenal extent -- all those small innovative SMEs that don't get a look in at the moment will be on an equal footing with anyone else. It brings competition to the marketplace which means better value for money for the taxpayer."
Dennis Keeling, Basda chief executive, said in a statement: "We believe that this will not only help government departments but will also encourage more businesses to adopt ebusiness with all the benefits it can bring."
It is hoped the standard will be incorporated into the e-government interoperability framework, which all government systems need to comply with.
The OGC said it does not have a definite timetable for the trial but hopes to have an idea of what works by the end of the year.