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Open standards

Building open ICT systems by making better use of standards in public procurement - against lock-in

The Digital Agenda of Europe identified "lock-in" as a problem, and its "Action 23" committed to providing guidance on the link between ICT standardisation and public procurement to help public authorities use standards to promote efficiency and reduce lock-in.

The Commission issued on June 2013 a Communication, accompanied by a Staff Working Document that contains a practical guide on how to make better use of standards in procurement, in particular in the public sector, and including some of the barriers.

The change to standards-base systems

Even though the short term costs might seem a barrier to change, in the long run money is saved. The change to a standards-based system should therefore be carried out during a long-term effort (estimated to take 5 to 10 years), replacing those systems which require a new procurement one by one by alternatives that are standards-based.

This will require that public authorities make a list of all their ICT systems and understand how they work together, within their own organisation and with systems of other stakeholders. They should identify which of these systems cannot be easily changed to other alternatives (these are systems causing the lock-in). For all these, they should consider alternatives based on standards. There are many different overlapping standards that require a thorough knowledge and evaluation before the right one is identified.

In addition, it does not only depend on unilateral choice; if an ICT system is used to communicate with another system, that other system should ideally be using the same standard.

Best practices

Fighting lock-in needs to be supported at all levels within public authorities. Some countries are actively promoting the use of standards, and have already gained a lot of practical experience. In order to learn from their experience, we will organise meetings with public authorities, ICT supply industry, standards organisations and civil society from Europe, supported by a public best practice website.

By sharing their experience on a regular basis, public organisations will learn from each other, adapt to best practices that emerge, look into common problems and suggest common solutions. This sharing of best practice will ensure that the choices made in different Member States will converge, reducing fragmentation and helping to ensure a real digital single market.

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