A right-wing think tank has called for more open standards and open source development in IT, arguing this could lead to savings of 50% on government IT expenditure.
A paper published by the Centre for Policy Studies – It’s ours. Why we, not the government own our data – dismisses the government’s Transformational Government strategy as disappointing, staggeringly unsuccessful and completely at odds with what citizens need.
It argues that instead of continuing with its centralised and “failing” IT projects, government should hand control of personal information back to individuals, so they can use it on a voluntary basis to transact with public services.
“This approach requires that all public services use open data standards to ensure that data can be easily transferred from one provider to another, in the same way that customers can today transfer their accounts from one bank to another,” it says.
“The potential benefits are substantial: they include savings on [untested and unnecessary] new technology, more flexibility, better public services, greater security and privacy over data, and far less intrusion by the state into the lives of its citizens.”
The paper written by Liam Maxwell, a Windsor councillor who wrote a report on open standards for the Conservative Party last year, uses health as an example of its preferred approach.
It argues that individuals could use services such as Microsoft HealthVault or Google Health to store their health records and to communicate with their GP or Hospital, eliminating the need for “the NHS database”.
It states: “If services such as HealthVault had already existed, there would be no need whatsoever for the UK government to spend anything like £12 billion building its own centralised medical system.”
Apart from being intrusive, the paper argues that the government’s approach has made it reliant on a “handful of IT suppliers”. It describes this as “peculiar” and “dangerous” and asserts that 60% of spending is in the hands of just nine companies.
The suppliers listed include the two remaining local service providers to the National Programme for IT in the NHS, CSC and BT. “One of the many dangers of awarding these sizes of contract is that when things go wrong, they can drag on for years, at great expense,” the report says.
As an alternative to large suppliers, the think-tank promotes cloud computing as a simple and effective platform for users to access the computing services they need. “Cloud computing systems, provided by third parties other than government will enable us to choose where to store our personal information, such as medical records,” it argues.
“All government departments will no longer need to procure and own all IT infrastructures itself, or to pay an outsourced company to do so. The market is now providing the IT systems needed for government systems, which are better centred on the needs of public service users rather than in government as a fumbling middleman.”
The paper calculates that the government’s IT provision of £16.5 billion this year is the equivalent to £700 for every house hold across the country. Yet it calculates that of all the IT projects that the government invests in, only 30% succeed.