The State of Play on ODF in Massachusetts: Milestones, Due Dates and Status

I've been gathering information from a variety of knowledgeable sources on the critical issues and milestones affecting the continuing implementation by the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD) of its OpenDocument Format (ODF) policy. Here are those milestones that I'll be watching for, the state of play of each on as I understand it, and the approximate date to look for an announcement on each

I’ve been gathering information from a variety of knowledgeable sources on the critical issues and milestones affecting the continuing implementation by the Massachusetts Information Technology Division (ITD) of its OpenDocument Format (ODF) policy. Here are the issues and milestones that I’ll be watching, the state of play of each on as I understand it, and the approximate date to look for an announcement on each:

Morrissey Amendment: On November 2, 2005, word reached the public that an amendment to an economic stimulus bill had been introduced by Senator Michael Morrissey in the Massachusetts Senate that would radically shift policy making power away from the ITD to a political task force. The text of that amendment was later modified somewhat, but the bill was not enacted into law before the legislature adjourned for the holidays.

The legislature is now back in session, and I am told that this portion of the economic stimulus bill to which the amendment relates will now begin getting attention, now that debate on another part of the same bill (involving health care) has been resolved. The next step will be for the economic bill (with or without the amendment) to be approved by each branch of the legislature. Following this, a reconciliation committee will be formed, and the final bill will then presumably be approved by both houses. Finally, the Governor would need to sign the bill — and can veto it if he chooses.

Will all this happen? I have talked to several people in the know who believe that the amendment will not survive. And, in fact, it is easy to identify many obvious enemies, and few obvious proponents to speak in its favor. In essence, the amendment would shift great power to the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office, and, by definition, leave less power for other individuals and offices to share in comparison — including the Governor, who continues to support the ODF policy. Moreover, the current version of the amendment would take away IT policy power from all of the municipalities of the Commonwealth — a breathtaking move for which there is no precedent and little excuse. It is hard to imagine that any local CIO would welcome this outcome.

At the same time, I have learned that support for the ODF policy continues to be expressed from public, as well as private parties. Within the last month, letters of opposition to approval of the task force contemplated by the amendment have been sent to multiple legislators by three of the major Massachusetts technology trade associations: the Massachusetts Network Communications Council (MNCC), Mass High Technology Council (MHTC) and the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MTLC).

I have received copies of these letters, and here are representative quotes taken from them. First, from the MHTC letter, signed by its President, Christopher R. Anderson:

The state’s current transparent audit process for reviewing IT decisions works very well and is viewed as the direction in which national IT procurement models are heading. The proposed new task force would create a bureaucratic bottleneck that would result in procurement inefficiencies for the Commonwealth and should be rejected by the conference committee.

And this, from the MNCC letter, signed by its Executive Director, Carol J. Meier:

– The Task Force will be unable to objectively evaluate procurement decisions
– The Task Force will slow decision-making down, or force it to a halt, delaying adoption of critical productivity technologies
– The Task Force will tend to single-vendor solutions, subject to the influence of the suppliers with the greatest political leverage. New entrants or innovators may not be able to propose their products and services
– The Task Force creates jurisdictional and constitutional issues regarding interfaces and authorities of existing government agencies and branches in Massachusetts…

We urge you to strike this Amendment

In summary, there are few inherent reasons one can imagine why legislators would wish to approve the amendment (other than to please lobbyists and Secretary William Francis Galvin), once they thoroughly understand the issues. We should know more on where this will go within the next thirty days.

Auditor’s Office: A detail from the October 31, 2005 hearing held by Senator Marc R. Pacheco, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, that most have forgotten is that Senator Pacheco requested the Audit Office to evaluate a cost analysis that had been conducted by the ITD with respect to the cost of implementing ODF, and the process that had been used by the ITD in adopting the ODF standard, as earlier submitted by the ITD. That analysis had indicated that significant cost savings could be achieved by implementing the ITD’s proposal.

The auditor has not yet issued a report on this matter, but can be expected to do so sometime over the next few months if he continues on the originally contemplated schedule. If the result of that evaluation is to confirm that implementation of ODF would, as asserted by then State CIO Peter Quinn, result in significant savings, it would be much more difficult to justify a roll back of the ODF decision.

Pacheco Hearing: If usual procedures are followed, the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight will certainly issue a decision as a follow up to the October 31 hearing referred to above. That decision can be expected to address: (1) the legal issues addressed by Senator Pacheco at the hearing to which ITD General Counsel Linda Hamel responded then, and in a subsequent brief that she submitted to the Committee, and (2) the Auditors evaluation referred to above. For this reason, the Committee decision would not be expected to issue until after the Auditor’s evaluation has been completed and presented.

Disability issues: The ability of ODF to match, or surpass, the capacity of MS Office to accommodate those with disabilities remains an important test for implementation. Last week, Thomas Trimarco, the Massachusetts Secretary of Administration and Finance, delivered a to representatives of the community of persons with disabilities stating that an evaluation will be made in mid 2006 to determine whether applications supporting ODF are likely to provide an acceptable alternative to MS Office for State employees with disabilities. If that need is not met by mid 2006, then the effective date of ODF implementation will be lagged as necessary until it is judged adequate to this task.

Meanwhile, work continues within OASIS to give final approval to and launch the new working group which will be chartered to facilitate use of applications supporting ODF by those with disabilities.

Leadership: Following Peter Quinn’s Christmas Eve announcement that he would resign as CIO, it was made public on January 6 that Secretary Trimarco (Quinn’s immediate superior) had appointed ITD COO Bethan Pepoli as the interim CIO and head of the ITD. Ms. Pepoli’s title implies that Secretary Trimarco may appoint a permanent CIO, and that Ms. Pepoli may be in the running for this position.

The identity of the permanent CIO is important, because presumably some deference will be given to the opinion of the CIO who will be responsible for implementing (or not) the ODF policy.

I have been told by a number of people in the know that Ms. Pepoli is a friend, and not a foe, of the ODF policy. Given that at this point there remain only 8 months before a new Governor will be elected (Mitt Romney has announced that he will not stand for reelection), it would presumably be difficult to attract a forceful candidate from the outside to take such a (presumably) short-term engagement, and that it would be unlikely that any candidate would be chosen that would be likely to take a strong stand against an policy so recently by the Governor’s office.

Given how short a period of time remains before the November election, anticipate an announcement on a permanent CIO (Ms. Pepoli or someone else) within the next thirty days.

ISO Adoption of ODF: OASIS, the developer of the ODF standard, submitted it to ISO for adoption as a global standard on September 30, 2005. While final approval of ODF by ISO is not essential to adoption by Massachusetts, that step will give ODF additional credibility in comparison to the Microsoft XML Reference Schema (XMLRS), which was not submitted to Ecma, a European standards body, late last year, and is not expected to reach ISO for at least another year.

Under the ISO “publicly available specification” (PAS) process used by OASIS for ODF, and which would be used by Ecma for XMLRS, balloting is held open for six months, following which a committee reconciles (under its own authority) any comments included with any votes submitted. The reconciliation process should begin in May of 2006, meaning that ODF should achieve adoption next summer – at least a year to 18 months before XMLRS could be expected to achieve a similar status, and be considered on an equal footing in (for example) Europe with ODF.

Summary: While there are significant events to watch for over the next year, the only two which, in my judgment, represent a significant impediment to a timely effective date for ODF on January 1, 2007 are these: making adequate progress on meeting accessibility needs, and confirmation by the State Auditor that the ITD’s cost analysis was sound.

With respect to the first, major players, such as IBM and Sun Microsystems, are betting heavily on ODF, and will be providing urgency and assistance in this regard in order to keep momentum for ODF adoption, both in Massachusetts and elsewhere, strong. Whether that means making sufficiently substantial progress by mid-summer to avoid a delay in the effective date remains to be seen, and bears watching.

With respect to the second, confirmation of the cost benefits would provide powerful support. It is important to note, however, that the Auditor is not doing its own cost analysis, but rather evaluating whether the ITD’s mode of analysis was properly conducted. Hence, a negative finding does not mean that cost savings would not follow, but rather that they had not yet been established — a lapse that can be cured.

As always, I will keep you informed on each of these issues as they mature.

[To browse all prior blog entries on this story, click here]


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