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“Open” is a big idea (and a new deal with government)

Get your head around just what "open" means for your business with Nicky Stewart commercial director of UKCloud Ltd.

Anyone working in, or doing business with government recently will have heard a lot about “open”. In government, trust, accountability, transparency, consultation, fairness, collaboration and sharing can all be used interchangeably with “open”. It’s a simple word that embraces a broad range of principles and concepts, many of which are complex and challenging to put into practice.
Open government isn’t a new concept – it has been more or less in continuous use since the Freedom of Information Act came into force 16 years ago. Since then the government has made significant effort to become genuinely open and transparent. The public sector publishes its data-sets, and makes them available to anyone to use.  G-Cloud and the Digital Marketplace has shown that is possible to create an open and transparent marketplace – creating unprecedented opportunities for SMEs, start-ups and new market entrants to do business with government.


The Government Digital Service (GDS) 10th design principle is “make things open, it makes things better”. The Supplier Standard being developed by GDS has openness at the heart of most of its principles: “data is a public asset”; “services built on open standards and reusable components”; “simple, clear, fast transactions”, and “transparent contracting”.  Although still consulting, GDS have been clear that any supplier that wants to be involved in delivering digital programmes will need to work within the parameters of the standard.

"Being open is about breaking lock-in, whether in legacy or in the new contracts that will underpin government’s digital transformation programme"

So what does it really mean? What does government really expect of its suppliers that want to help government on its digital journey?

The standard sets out a clear and unequivocal message about how government expects its suppliers to behave, and in doing so clearly lays out government’s longstanding problems with many of its incumbent suppliers.

Suppliers will be expected to work within the scope of user needs, and not add unnecessary extras. Suppliers will make data accessible to government – including data protocols. Suppliers will enable the reuse of purchased assets, and publish software created for government under an open source licence. Suppliers can expect their contracts with government to be published, and they will need to be transparent about their financial performance within these contracts.

But the Supplier Standard isn’t a one-way street. Government makes commitments too: buying will become more transparent and transactional; market places will be stimulated and grown; and collaborative communities built. Suppliers will be paid a fair rate for their services, and will be able to showcase their government work to other clients. Most importantly, government commits to ongoing engagement with the supply community – something we are already seeing playing out in practice.

"The standard sets out a clear and unequivocal message about how government expects its suppliers to behave"

This is a very different way of doing business with government. The principles of openness and transparency go right against the grain of typical government / supplier engagements. Will government’s incumbent suppliers adapt and allow the standard to be embedded in legacy contracts? How will government incentivise suppliers to accept the standard in legacy? (which even today comprises the vast majority of government’s technology spend). How will any supplier, incumbent or not, win business with government if their services are not built on open standards and reusable components? Being open is about breaking lock-in, whether in legacy or in the new contracts that will underpin government’s digital transformation programme.

As with any new policy, there are lot of questions, and the answers will in all probability be found through the current consultation. The standard and consultation can be found here . What is abundantly clear today is that openness will need to be part of the DNA of any supplier that wants to do business with government, and for many, behaviour change will be the name of the game.

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