The Cabinet Office has given an unequivocal commitment to distance itself from Microsoft proprietary protocols, in favour of open standard XML as it drives towards e-government.
In a major step towards that goal the Government will launch UK Online, its personal portal for citizens, in September, with four "life event" services. More will be added monthly.
Cabinet Office IT Unit assistant director Anwar Choudhury made the announcements at a conference last month organised by Socitm, the public sector IT managers' body, and IT suppliers' group the Computing Services and Software Association (CSSA).
The event was called to calm mounting fears among local government IT professionals and supplier organisations that the Government is rushing its consultation on interoperability standards and that policy is too closely aligned with proprietary products and standards. It was attended by 100 delegates from software and service suppliers and public sector IT policy makers from the Local Government Association and the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, as well as the sponsoring organisations.
Socitm's Jim Haslem said, "Public service providers must have a clear framework of standards to enable effective joined-up working. However, we must also ensure that local diversity of applications, so important in driving competition and innovation in local government IT, is maintained."
Choudhury said that under the Government Interoperability Framework, government IT strategy will be "browser-led" with the internationally-approved XML becoming the standard for data exchange for joined up government.
UK GovTalk, the first government/industry co-operation of its kind, will provide XML schemas for use across government, with an open consultation process to ensure that interested parties can review them. However, Choudhury insisted that once the consultation was over these schemas would be mandatory.
Conference delegates - overwhelmingly suppliers - raised a number of concerns, including lack of funds for IT projects, the intransigence of central government departments and the state of legacy systems.
The CSSA welcomed the framework, but echoed Socitm's fears and insisted that the XML schemas should clearly conform to the guidelines set down by the World-Wide Web Consortium. "Proprietary extensions to XML should be avoided," said CSSA policy manager Richard Sullivan.
The association also called for clear timeframes for implementation and for further scrutiny of security issues.