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Gov's 'open data' strategy: It'll cost too much and won't work

Report: Public sector may struggle to support Cabinet plan

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The Cabinet Office has revealed "concern" over whether the public sector's IT is up to the job of supporting more transparency, from responses to last year's open data consultation.

The consultation, which closed in October, drew more than 400 responses from industry, government and other interested parties. The Cabinet Office asked for feedback on issues including how best to gather and make use of data held by the public sector, how to encourage the private sector to make use of it, and how to bolster individuals' rights to access their own data held by public sector, known as an 'enhanced right to data'.

Questions were raised by the respondents over whether current public sector IT is up to the task of supporting the enhanced right to data and whether organisations are sufficiently skilled.

"Doubts were raised about the capacity of existing government IT systems to deliver an enhanced right to data. Many respondents questioned the capability of some public bodies, particularly smaller organisations, to deliver an enhanced right to data when resources are already stretched, whilst some felt the costs associated with developing systems capable of maintaining large datasets might prove prohibitive," the Cabinet Office's report on the responses said. "Again, uncertainty was expressed as to whether public bodies possess the requisite skills to effectively deliver an enhanced right to data."

Any enhanced right to data would also need "change in IT delivery at the strategic level" according to respondents, while both the tender process and the way in which IT contracts are set up would also need to be re-examined, the report said.

"Respondents broadly agreed it will be necessary to incorporate open data standards into future contracts in order to effectively implement an enhanced right to data and that government should publish clear guidelines setting out future expectations. A number of respondents were clear that they thought the progression of the agenda should not be contingent on the incorporation of open data principles into existing contracts," the report said.

Central government respondents listed concerns around the cost of developing a public sector data inventory, describing them as "a possible barrier to significant change", the report said.

"Of the responses submitted by organisations within the industry category, most suggested developing effective data inventories would pose significant challenges from an ICT perspective, an area in which government has a poor track record," it added.

The government will be setting out its open data strategy in 2012, according to the Cabinet Office, with those who responded to the consultation showing "widespread support" for the open data and transparency.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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