The Obama Administration has committed to creating an “unprecedented level of openness in government,” made possible by an equally ambitious utilization of information technology. How that technology, and the standards upon which it relies, are selected will determine whether open government is made available to all, or only to the technically sophisticated, the able-bodied, and the well to do.
The Obama Administration has no end of challenges to look forward to. One of the trickier ones involves something called “Electronic Health Records,” and the standards that make them work.
Barack Obama has articulated a sophisticated and powerful technology-based agenda. But much of that agenda will require standards that either do not yet exist, or have not yet been implemented. The new administration will have to act quickly to fill the gap, and will need new strategies to make its standards ends meet.
The full potential of the Internet to act as a platform for the sharing of content and information is only beginning to be explored. Many are embracing that potential, using creative tools such as Creative Commons and open source licenses. Others would circle the wagons to prevent their content from being more widely reused than in the past. It may be that they have the most to lose if they are successful.
In the last issue’s editorial, I predicted that the confidential OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting would fail to achieve its objectives. I was both right and wrong: there was only time to discuss and, as needed, revise a small percentage of the c. 900 substantive comments registered last year — but as of this point in time, it appears that OOXML may have been adopted anyway. Whether or not OOXML has finally won, the credibility and integrity of the formal standard setting system certainly lost.
At the end of March, the 6,000 page OOXML specification will complete its “Fast Track” course through the ISO/IEC JTC1. Whatever the result, it’s clear that a process designed to review non-controversial 20 page specifications outside of public view is in need of a serious overhaul if it is to remain useful and relevant to the ITC industry.
Twenty years ago, the IT industry decided that a standards infrastructure built to develop standards for the physical world was inadequate to meet its needs, and created a new type of organization to do the job. But it stopped short of forming a global organization to support these organizations and to maximize their value. It’s time now to finish the job.
The developed world enjoys many advantages over developing nations, including some that are not so obvious – such as disproportionate benefits from standard setting, fueled in part by the vast patent portfolios of multinational corporations. Unless a greater effort is made to adopt royalty free standards, the result may be a future filled with international standards wars.
Respect for individual liberties is integral to modern democratic values. But individual interests must be balanced against the public welfare. In the case of the right to utilize natural resources, the enlightened best interests of individuals might benefit from a tighter rein on their own behavior.
Governments are increasingly aware that the Internet and the Web are reordering the relationship of both citizens and governments to information and services, with both becoming more dependent upon the way in which this “cyberinfrastructure” evolves and is managed. Governments are now deciding whether, and how, to influence this process, and the choices they make will have an important impact on the public interest.