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Redmond man unmasked: UK.gov open standards stalled

Findings scrapped after 'conflict of interest'

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Updated The government has had to delay closure of talks on open standards in public sector IT following what it called a "conflict of interest" involving a Microsoft consultant.

The Cabinet Office has extended the consultation period by a month and will also re-run a roundtable that had involved the consultant. The Cabinet says that it's scrapping outcomes from the round-table event. The consultation period will now close on 4 June.

The Cabinet Office, which is driving the government's digital change agenda, said it had found what could be seen as a "clear conflict of interest that should have been declared".

The consultant in question is Dr Andy Hopkirk, who'd facilitated the roundtable on 4 April on Competition and European Interaction and who had been paid by the Cabinet Office on a pro bono basis.

According to the Cabinet Office, Hopkirk hadn't declared he was advising Microsoft on the Open Standards consultation.

Hopkirk, who represents the National Computing Center on Microsoft's Interoperability Executive Customer Council, had told the Cabinet Office upon its discovery of his work for Microsoft that he had: "[n]ot been paid to specifically write their response to the Open Standards consultation but [that he] is engaged to help them tease out the issues".

The Open Standards consultation was opened in February to help specify requirements for government IT on interoperability and sharing of data and documents across government, and to help end single-vendor lock in.

Microsoft has lobbied the government hard on the issue of open standards. Its representatives have argued for a definition where technologies should be include that specify the release of IP in products on a Fair and Non Discriminatory Basis (FRAND) instead of RAND – a model that's favored by open-sourcers.

In a statement emailed to The Reg following this article, Microsoft said:

“We respect the Cabinet Office’s decision and look forward to continued constructive participation in the Open Standards consultation. Microsoft will make its consultation submission in due course, as will many other organisations, and that submission will be made publicly available.

“We can confirm that Dr. Hopkirk has worked with Microsoft on an ad hoc consultancy basis. In this role, he has provided his views on global government interoperability issues. This work is unrelated to the Cabinet Office’s invitation to Dr. Hopkirk to moderate the 4th April roundtable. We had no part in recommending him for this role, we had no input on the agenda and we did not receive any consultancy on the roundtable from Dr. Hopkirk either before or after the event.”®

This article has been updated to include comment from Microsoft.

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