5. Procure IT solutions in a transparent and open way

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Context

When procuring IT solutions, public administrations are often restricted by compatibility requirements of existing proprietary interfaces, systems and data formats or they simply underestimate the benefits of relying on open specifications and standards. This situation often results in poor procurement practices limiting competition, such as:

• referencing non-standard specifications, which only a few vendors know about and can comply with;

• referencing specific sources, trademarks, patents, etc., favouring certain companies or products.

Supporting instrument The European Commission has developed The Guide: Using standards for ICT procurement to help procurement officials, IT managers, strategists and architects within public organisations, and policy makers at central government level, to use standards and other technical specifications in the procurement of IT. [22]

These practices sometimes result in one vendor providing critical systems for many years and subsequently being difficult to move away from. Such vendor lock-in is estimated to cost European public administrations €1.1 billion a year. Aside from increasing costs, it reduces the available vendor base, excludes new and innovative companies from providing alternative solutions and causes the market to stagnate.

recommendation

5.1. Use common standards and specifications in IT procurement

 

Using standards and open specifications is crucial to avoid vendor lock-in. In the context of IT procurement, public administrations should consider referencing European and national standards or international IT specifications identified by the European Commission.

Supporting instrument The EU Catalogue of ICT standards for procurement, currently under development by the European Commission, aims to encourage public procurers to mention ICT standards and specifications in their calls for proposals. An EU-level catalogue will streamline the use of different specifications, reduce complexity and eliminate redundancies.

Using common standards and open specifications:

• Reduces the technical work needed to link IT systems together;

• Results in cost savings due to lower maintenance and integration costs;

• Increases competition in the EU’s Digital Single Market.

recommendation

5.2. Share assessments of standards and technical specifications

 

In the context of IT procurement, public administrations should assess and select the most appropriate standards and specifications.

Supporting instrument The Common Assessment Method for Standards and Specifications (CAMSS) helps public administrations to assess specifications and identify those that fit to their specific needs. The CAMSS catalogue on Joinup allows administrations to share and reuse these assessments. [24]

Furthermore, by sharing their assessments of standards and technical specifications with others, public administrations promote a more efficient use of public funds, reduce duplication of work and improve transparency in the procurement process.

A good way of sharing assessment findings is to create a common list of standards and specifications along with their assessments so that they can be reused by different public administrations.

recommendation

5.3. Use standard clauses and contractual templates that facilitate the sharing and reuse of IT solutions

The use of standard clauses and contractual templates is a common practice in public administrations. Emphasis should be given to making ‘sharing and reuse’ part of these clauses.

Supporting instrument The ‘Standard Sharing and Reusing Clauses for Contracts’ is a document that includes standard clauses for contracts, which public administrations can use for clauses that refer to developing reusable solutions and to reusing already existing ones. [26]

This way, vendor lock-in can be avoided. Similarly, the degree of legal certainty and the potential for the procured IT solution to be shared with other administrations will be increased. As such, clauses are usually issued by institutions and organisations that are experts in the field and are drafted in a way that leaves little room for different interpretation. Public administrations should, therefore, develop standard clauses or reuse already existing ones.

recommendation

5.4. Open source software: take into account community contribution in public procurement

The involvement of communities in the development and maintenance of IT solutions fosters competition between service providers, especially when large communities can contribute instead of one single company.

Supporting instrument The Guideline on Public Procurement of Open Source Software explains how public administrations can acquire open source solutions and why they should. [19]

One of the main strengths of open source software is that the development process, at its best, involves a community of several firms, individuals and other contributors. Contribution is not limited to writing code; it extends to, for instance, providing detailed reports of requirements and issues as well as examples and tutorials.

Supporting instrument GitHub is an online community of 15 million people and a web-based Git repository hosting service. It hosts more than 38 million projects.

Public administrations can also provide indirect support to the open source community by asking tenderers that have selected open source software to demonstrate their level of contribution to the relevant developer community.

recommendation

Recommended measures for central bodies

 

• Support the use of common standards and specifications

Central bodies should encourage the use of common standards and technical specifications in public procurement, for example, by creating a common list of such specifications.

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