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"A Strategy for Openness: Enhancing E-Records Access in New York State"
Tuesday, May 20 2008 @ 08:00 PM EDT

Remember the New York State group that was told to investigate longterm storage needs in government and ODF/OOXML? The report is now published, "A Strategy for Openness: Enhancing E-Records Access in New York State". You can get it here in doc, PDF and odt formats, although only PDF works currently. It's just been posted, so later they should all be there.

What did they find? You can find the "Major Findings" on page 8 of this PDF, part 1 of the study. The most significant finding is that having more than one format doesn't provide increased choice. It confuses and increases complexity and costs instead. It would be better to use single, standardized formats to increase efficiency and interoperability. Well, we all tried to tell ISO that Microsoft's argument was wrong. They didn't listen, but that doesn't mean that governments will just fall into line. It's obvious that if you want interoperability, you need to agree on one standard everyone can use equally.

Here are some highlights from the executive summary:

9. Increased numbers of formats for doing the same office tasks do not increase choice in any positive manner. Use of multiple formats increases complexity and ongoing costs. The use of single, standarized formats increases inefficiencies and furthers compatibility and interoperability. Choice comes into play in two ways: (a) the choices made by vendors to directly support accepted standards; and (b) the ability of the State to choose among vendors who support accepted standards.

10. It is not in the State's best interests to insert itself into any argument between competing document formats. Rather, State policy issues and business needs should drive its choices of technology tools. The State should buy technology that enables openness because State policy is to ensure access to its e-records so that the State can conduct its business in an open, interoperable and transparent manner.

11. There are many features in technologies the State needs. Given the State's increasing reliance upon electronic records and the variety of users who need access to those records, the State must refine its desired technology features to include the additional features of openness.

What do they recommend then? One, that no particular document creation technologies should be named, because tech gets outdated easily. But openness is the policy choice. Two, they suggest an Electronic Records Committee (ERC) be set up, and funded sufficiently, to "place the vendor community on notice that technology openness is a long-term commitment of the State, and ensure the ERC will continue to exist through successive governmental transitions." I think they learned a thing or two from what happened in Massachusetts. They suggest that the group that came up with this report continue to work, to develop next a real definition of what openness should be so as to create a line of what is acceptable. I assume they require it to actually work. It seems OOXML has spreadsheet issues.

Here's the background on how the study came about:

In its 2007 session, the New York State Legislature directed NYS Chief Information Officer/Director of the Office For Technology, Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, to gather stakeholder input regarding the mechanisms and processes for obtaining access to and reading electronic data so that such data can be created, maintained, exchanged, and preserved by the state in a manner that encourages appropriate government control, access, choice, interoperability, and vendor neutrality. Specifically, the law requires:
"The director shall study how electronic documents and the mechanisms and processes for obtaining access to and reading electronic data can be created, maintained, exchanged, and preserved by the state in a manner that encourages appropriate government control, access, choice, interoperability, and vendor neutrality. The study shall consider, but not be limited to, the policies of other states and nations, management guidelines for state archives as they pertain to electronic documents, public access, expected storage life of electronic documents, costs of implementation, and savings. The director shall solicit comments regarding the creation, maintenance, exchange, and preservation of electronic documents by the state from stakeholders, including but not limited to, the office of the state comptroller, the office of the attorney general, the state archives, and the state historian. The director shall also solicit comments from members of the public. The director shall report findings and recommendations to the governor, the speaker of the assembly, and the temporary president of the senate on or before January fifteenth, two thousand eight."
Laws of 2007, Chapter 477 (codified at New York State Technology Law 305(4)) CIO/OFT is issuing this RFPC to help direct the findings and recommendations of the required study.

Some viewed the study being set up as a way to avoid openness. But not so. Instead it has provided the first government rebuke to Microsoft's claim that having two standards increases choice. The market is asking for real openness and true interoperability. FOSS is already there. Microsoft?


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