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U.K. Eyes IT Savings From Open Standards

New panel of IT leaders from industry and public sector tasked with helping government cut IT costs by adopting open standard solutions.

As part of an ongoing drive to cut IT procurement and operational costs, the U.K. government has announced the creation of a new leadership council to improve decision making around big contracts.

The new Open Standards Board is tasked with promoting supplier use of open standards as much as possible to help identify top-value, transparent solutions for government workers.

Resulting from a consultation the Cabinet Office conducted last year to explore use of open systems in government, the Board is made up of ten senior decision makers drawn from both inside and outside the public sector. It will be chaired by the government's chief technology officer, Liam Maxwell. Members include representatives of the National Health Service, local government, academia, central government, and one industry voice: John Atherton, chief technology officer at social intranet, extranet and Internet solution supplier Surevine.

[ IT hiring leads in an otherwise lackluster British job market. Read IT Tops U.K. Job Market. ]

The Cabinet Office, which is driving efforts to reform IT practice in the public sector, says use of open standards is the best way to make system purchases simpler, cheaper and more flexible.

Use of open standards will also help government move away from long-term fixed contracts critics say lead to very big bills for very little return. "Open standards should be used when the government buys its IT so that we can make sure we choose what best meets our users' needs," said Cabinet Minister Francis Maude.

Maude continued, "With interoperable systems based on open standards, we can build in flexibility and cut costs by avoiding lock-in to suppliers or products, achieve a truly level playing field for a diverse range of suppliers, and provide better services for taxpayers. We expect savings on IT in 2012/13 alone to be over £400 million [$610 million] -- and we know we can save more."

That remains to be proven. Some British observers say that given Whitehall's apparent passion for buying big proprietary systems, it may take some time to wean mandarins off working with only the biggest suppliers.

Two tech experts square off. A CIO compares working without IT standards to anarchy, while a CTO claims that standardization stalls creativity. Also in the new, all-digital The Standardization Debate issue of Network Computing: Next-gen data centers and the politics of standards. (Free registration required.)

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