A few days ago I posted about the Common Operating Environment policy published by the Australian Federal Government to reduce complexity and diversity of their desktop infrastructure, and the limited success they had in gathering online comments about the draft strategy back in July 2010.
It appears that reactions to the now final policy have been quite vocal, and the Australian government has decided to reopen the discussion on the AGIMO blog.
What I find interesting is how most of the discussion on a document that looks at several aspects of the common environment focuses on the decision of selecting OOXML as the preferred standard for productivity applications. AGIMO’s blog post is almost entirely about this, in an attempt at further justifying the choice and defending against criticism.
I do not have any insider information, but from what the post says, it looks like the Australian government did its homework before taking that decision. It is a decision driven by the desire to minimize risks. As the post says
Other formats were considered, but after careful consideration and discussion with the agencies it was agreed that many existing documents would not be properly converted by these other formats.
My point here is not to defend or criticize their choice.But once again the criticism of those who (rightly) support open standards focuses too narrowly on the usual turf war between competing standards (ODF and OOXML in this case).
I still remember that almost four years ago Gartner Consulting was tasked to write a report about the revision of the first version of the European Interoperability Framework. The report, which was led by my consulting colleague Michiel Maloteux and his team, received many comments, most of which focused on a rather minor sentence in an 80+ pages document that was proposing an innovative enterprise architecture approach (and most of which has positively informed future work). The sentence was:
Gartner acknowledges the importance of open standards. IT vendors and system integrators should also recognize that open standards are the way to go. The era where proprietary standards lead to a sure base of loyal customers is fading away. IT is becoming just like any other industry where true added value and competitive pricing determine the winners.
Yet, Gartner recommends not to focus on the use of open standards per se. Whether open or not, standards are to further the deployment of public services. EIF v2.0 should facilitate the most profitable business model(s) of cost versus public value, under proper recognition of intellectual property rights, if any. The support for multiple standards allows a migration towards open standards when appropriate in the long run
At the time this was no doubt controversial. Microsoft was in the middle of leading a standardization effort for OOXML and ODF was about to become an ISO standard. No wonder we took some of the heat – including myself, who had not been involved in drafting the report (Gartner Research and Gartner Consulting are two separate organizations, although both part of Gartner).
Without taking any side, what I am surprised with is how in both cases the debate focuses on a single aspects of what the policy (or the framework document) are about. This is quite typical of open standard and open source supporters, and I do see some of the same traits – although not so extreme – among open government data supporters.
I do appreciate that fighting a battle against incumbents – be they large corporations or legacy processes – takes focus and dedication. But in order to win the battles that really matter, people should never lose sight of the context in which the debate is taking place and what the overall objective is.