UK Gov IT chief backs open source, small business

The UK government’s deputy Chief Information Officer has outlined plans to hand public sector IT contracts over to small businesses and suppliers of open-source and cloud-based solutions in an attempt to balance the books.

Speaking at the 360IT conference in London on Wednesday, Bill McCluggage also promised greater transparency over IT procurement, with tenders and contracts published online.

"It is quite an interesting time, with some 120 days since the new government,” he told delegates. “The new administration's policy is to promote small business procurement so that 25 per cent of government contracts should be awarded to SMEs.”

"We want to move away from large system integrators," he added.

McCluggage said IT projects across all departments were being reassessed ion a bid to cut the bill for central government IT, which currently stands at more than £7 billion – nearly half of the £16.9 billion spent nationally on public sector IT services.

Contracts with a price tag of less than £50 million will remain largely unaffected, he said. But larger schemes would be broken up into smaller projects worth no more than £100 million each – effectively, avoiding the risk of putting all the government’s eggs in one basket.

All new IT projects costing more than £1 million are currently on hold.

Outlining a commitment to “simplify, standardise and automate”, McCluggage said the government would make it easier for open-source suppliers to compete for contracts, making the public sector less reliant on individual suppliers, or locked into proprietary systems.

Singling out desktop productivity software for particular concern, hinting at a possible move towards cloud-based solutions to escape licensing restrictions:

"We have 600,000 desktop licences for one specific desktop productivity tool. How do we resize government to re-use assets which we already have, without the lock-in of new licences?”

The first phase of the Government’s IT spending review is now coming to an end, with 419 contracts being re-evaluated as part of the process.