The Cabinet Office has launched a consultation on open standards for government IT.

Launching the consultation exercise at the end of last week, Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude said it would inform the definition of open standards for government IT and decisions on whether standards should be made mandatory.

“We are committed to implementing open standards and want to create a level playing field for open source and proprietary software,” he said.

“Open standards for software and systems will reduce costs and enable us to provide better public services.

"We want to get this right, so we want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to have their say on this matter.”

The consultation follows the publication of a new Government ICT Strategy last March.

This committed the government to creating a common and secure IT infrastructure, based on a suite of compulsory open standards, and adopting appropriate open standards wherever possible.

A survey on open standards, which was published in November, found there was “an appetite” for the government’s approach.

However, some respondents felt it would be difficult to implement, given the number of standards available, the speed at which they develop, and the danger of tying vendors in “red tape.”

Conversely, some respondents felt the government would have to mandate standards that are core to most government systems, to ensure interoperability.

The Cabinet Office said in response that it would move away from a “crowd-sourcing” approach to finding standards and focus on a small number of subject areas with a clear rationale for action.

It also said it would make sure the process of adopting standards was clearly defined, and fitted with its reference model for connecting government IT, which is due to be issued in March 2012.

The latest consultation asks respondents about the criteria for open standards, whether they should be mandated, and how to align UK activity with international action.

The consultation document, which includes guidance on how to respond, is on the Cabinet Office’s website.