Effective immediately, all government departments are to comply with a set of Open Standards Principles (OSPs) when procuring for IT contracts.
The standards were developed following a public consultation that ran from February to June this year, where feedback from government bodies and IT suppliers was assessed to establish whether OSPs would reduce costs and level the playing field for SMEs when bidding for government contracts.
A document reflecting on the consultation highlights that nearly 70 percent of respondents believe that the principles would improve innovation, competition and choice in the provision of government services. Over 70 percent also said that it would help improve value for money.
However, some big government suppliers are reluctant to move away from the traditional approach of IT procurement in Whitehall, which has often resulted in departments awarding monolithic contracts to a single vendor for many years.
Government sources say that although some suppliers have expressed reluctance to move towards OSPs, very few were able to articulate why they wouldn't be beneficial.
From today all government bodies must comply with OSPs for software interoperability and data and document formats in government.
Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, welcomed the announcement.
"Government must be better connected to the people it serves and partners who can work with it - especially small businesses, voluntary and community organisations. Having open information and software that can be used across government departments will result in lower licensing costs in government IT, and reduce the cost of lock-in to suppliers and products," said Maude.
"It is only right that we are encouraging competition and creating a level playing field for all companies to ensure we are getting the best price for the taxpayer."
When going to tender for IT services, if a government department doesn't want to use OSPs, it will have to apply for an exemption through a Whitehall spending review team. Any exemption requests will have to clearly explain why it is not beneficial for OSPs to be used in that situation.
This is the second major government IT procurement announcement to come out this week, where the Cabinet Office has also said that it has put a hold on all upcoming frameworks that would have been issued through the Government Procurement Service.
It is conducting an internal review as to whether frameworks create effective competition amongst suppliers and deliver the best value for money. Analysts suggest that the review will be aimed at encouraging more SME suppliers into government and to also remove duplication amongst services being offered through frameworks.