Lessons for Open Standard Policies: A Case Study of the Massachusetts Experience
International Conference on Theory and Practice of Electronic Governance, December 10-13, 2007
12 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2007
In 2003, Massachusetts embarked on a policy to transition to open standards for information technology. This policy led Massachusetts to switch the format of its electronic documents for its public records from a proprietary standard to an open standard. This article documents this historic process because Massachusetts was the first government to switch its information technology over to open standards. In the process, we develop a set of lessons learned from the Massachusetts experience. These lessons are invaluable for other governments as well as scholars studying the adoption of standards.
The Massachusetts policy towards open standards is being careful watched by many governments. A number of other governments including several states in the United States, such as Minnesota and New York, as well as other national governments such as Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, and South Africa are moving towards or considering open standards policies. These policies are led by a desire to save money and have greater flexibility with respect to IT. However, the switch towards open standards can be fraught with difficulties that encompass economic, socio-political, technological, and institutional issues.
Our analysis offers a number of lessons from the Massachusetts experience for other governments considering a similar policy switch. The first lesson is the need for government to consider the impact of their policy on both direct and indirect stakeholders. Support from stakeholders is essential for a seamless transfer to open standards. The second set of lessons focus on several decisions around setting up an open standard policy, such as establishing how principled (e.g., avoid vendor lock-in or promote public autonomy) or how practical (e.g., save money or increase efficiency) a policy initiative should be. There are also lessons for addressing a "close call" decision between an open standard and a proprietary standard, and how to handle proprietary standards that are "dressed up" as open standards. The third set of lessons is the need for government to look for support both from within the government as well as the open standards community. The support can consist of financial, logistical, technical and political resources. The lessons are applicable, not only for open document standards, but also for open standards policies for other technologies. In addition, these lessons are relevant for any policy shift to open standards in general. The paper ends by considering two main lessons for other governments considering open standards for document formats. Indeed, open standards for document formats was the principal area of controversy for the open standards policy in Massachusetts.
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