EU guide helps governments avoid vendor lock-in

Open standards could save the EU more than €1 billion

A new European guide aimed at avoiding IT vendor lock-in could save the public sector more than €1 billion (US$1.3 billion) a year.

The policy, announced by the European Commission Tuesday, involves using open standards rather than vendor-specific tools, systems or products. The Commission believes that open tendering procedures will attract increased numbers of bidders with better value bids.

"Open standards create competition, lead to innovation and save money. The guide issued today is here to help national authorities grab every opportunity for innovation and efficiency," said European Union Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

In addition, it is hoped that a greater use of standards will make it easier to exchange data between public systems in different E.U. member states, facilitating cross-border e-government services for citizens.

The Commission says that many organizations either lack the expertise to decide which standards are relevant to their IT needs, or fear that change would be too costly. It has therefore published a staff working document that contains a practical guide on how to make better use of standards in procurement.

The guide urges public sector staff to avoid using brand names and proprietary technical specifications when identifying products; to undertake periodic evaluation of IT products and publish this information; and to develop lists of recommended standards and other technical specifications as part of an overall IT strategy.

It also warns that since "standards and technical specifications are often presented in natural language, it is not uncommon that different people may interpret a given specification in a different way." Therefore it is important that a standard or technical specification also provides a reference implementation or a conformance test.

The guide also warns against reliance on overly complex, custom-made systems that hinder migration and says that procurement documents should always provide for knowledge handover at the end of the contract period.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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