Government must be militant about interoperability standards, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said.
Speaking at a Public Accounts Select Committee examining government procurement practices, Maude said: “The kind of standards we should be militant about are standards of interoperability, so you have proper connectivity.”
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He cited criminal justice as an example of poor system interoperability. “Across the criminal justice system, for example, there is very little connectivity across the IT systems. So data has to be re-entered at every stage in the criminal justice process with a huge amount of error coming in along the way as well as redundant cost,” he said.
Maude said the “hideous legacy” of incredibly expensive IT contracts with an oligopoly of multinational IT suppliers had led to expensive and insulated systems.
“The kind of things we need to have are more visibility of contracts, and break the contracts up so you can see what you are getting. And smaller contracts so the best disruptive smaller suppliers can compete effectively," he said.
In November, the government released an ambitious set of open standards principles, intended to break supplier lock-in and ensure that all future IT procurements are open and interoperable.
However, commentators have observed that breaking complex systems to communicate with each other through standardised interfaces will be a huge task.
Mark Thompson, senior lecturer in information systems at Cambridge University, said: “The challenges include resistance from incumbents, education, and the role of the CIO, which will need to change, as will levels of technical awareness and the notion that technology is for techies and not the business,” he said.