October 31, 2005

Good afternoon, Senator Pacheco and members of the Committee.

I welcome the opportunity to answer questions that have arisen about ITD's recent adoption of the Open Document Format, or "ODF" and to clear up many of the misunderstandings that have arisen about the ODF standard.

Before I address such misunderstandings, I want to put ITD's publication of the ODF standard in context. Several years ago, the Legislatively created IT Commission examined how the Commonwealth could better acquire and use information technology. The Commission concluded that the Commonwealth's IT systems were a hodge podge of different and incompatible technologies resulting in information silos. For many years, I have stated "if someone made one and a vendor sold one, I guaranteed we bought one. As a result, in this era when state agencies must share data across agency and system boundaries using interoperable systems, we cannot do so, or cannot do so without building expensive interfaces. Our goal has been and remains appliance computing. Meaning everything can talk to everything else without expensive retrofits and interfaces. Over simplification Senator, but I always think of Legos; different shapes and colors but they all snap together. That is how the computing environment should look like within the Commonwealth.

In response to these concerns, and to a specific recommendation from the former IT Commission, ITD began to develop an IT architecture, a coherent, standards based blueprint for the development of the Executive Department's collection of IT systems. Our architecture, the "Enterprise Technical Reference Model" or "ETRM," is based on a framework developed and distributed by the Federal government and the National Association of State CIOs. Its basic premise is that by adoption of a "service oriented architecture," focused on open standard technologies, the Commonwealth can be transformed from an IT Tower of Babel to an IT United Nations. Adoption of industry IT standards will enable the Executive Department to use plug and play IT components that interoperate seamlessly because, while they are not all sold by the same vendor, they are built to the same standards. ITD has published various versions of the ETRM and one of them, version 3.5, required that all documents created in Executive Department agencies would be created in ODF, an open industry standard.

ODF is a type of "XML" or Extensible Markup Language. XML is an interchange format. It allows documents created by disparate systems to relate to one another. A document created on a system using a particular version of XML can be read and recreated with fidelity by a different system capable of reading that particular version of XML.

We chose to adopt as a standard the version of XML used in ODF. The Library of Congress has adopted ODF as a text format preference (along with PDF, which ITD also adopted in ETRM V. 3.5), for the preservation of Library of Congress collections. Fynnette Eaton, ERA Program, Change Management Officer: "NARA is requiring that those series of documents that are likely to be looked at in the future are saved in nonproprietary XML." She also said that "Anyone who thinks that the use of proprietary formats is acceptable for electronic records archiving doesn't know what they are talking about."

Many national, state, county and municipal governments around the world have already adopted or are considering adopting ODF as their preferred document format.

ITD adopted ODF because it is an open standard. Some versions of XML are proprietary, encumbered by restrictive copyright and patent licenses that restrict the ability of developers to write software that supports such versions of XML. By comparison, ODF was developed through an open peer review process, is maintained by an open community, and is available under patent and copyright licenses that impose minimal restrictions on software developers who wish to write applications to support it, now and in the distant future.

Documents created in proprietary XML formats cannot always be opened by applications created by vendors other than the format owner. Moreover, unlike documents created in ODF, documents created in proprietary formats will be inaccessible centuries from now because the ability to read them is tied to certain proprietary software. If history is our guide, today's applications will be as hard to locate in 100 years as Selectrix typewriters are today. By comparison new applications can always be written to support documents formatted in open standards like ODF long after the original software used to create such documents has disappeared. As an open document format, ODF, and applications that read it, are far more likely to be available in 300 years when our great grandchildren want to read the electronic records we create today. Furthermore, multiple office applications support ODF even today, so citizens making public records requests will have a choice of office applications when they read electronic public records created in that format.

In short, the Commonwealth's documents belong to its people and should not be locked up in proprietary formats that either restrict access to those who are willing and able to buy particular software tools to open them, or prevent access to those records in the far future because their readability is dependent upon software that is no longer available.

Having stated our general position, I want to dispel a number of misconceptions about our choice of ODF.

First, the applicability of the ODF standard is limited, like the rest of our architecture, to Executive Department agencies. It does not apply to the Judiciary (although the Judiciary, on its own, is way ahead of us in this regard and has already rolled out 2,000 desktop applications that support ODF!); the Legislature; the Constitutional Offices, or the district attorneys offices. It also does not apply to members of the public who send documents to Executive Department agencies, or require that we use ODF when sending documents to members of the public when they make public records requests. It does not require us to migrate the countless current electronic documents to ODF.

Second, adoption of the ODF standard does not require that we abandon our investments in legacy IT systems. The standard applies only to office documents, and not all of our legacy systems rely on such documents. Those existing IT systems that do will be retained and used by agencies until and unless a cost effective means of replacing the office document components are found. Thus ITD has not and will not ask any agency to dismantle any legacy system that relies on office documents created in formats other than ODF.

Third, we have learned from the well informed community of persons with disabilities that there are currently no office applications supporting ODF that meet the current standards for the accessibility of such applications. We will not disenfranchise the community of persons with disabilities. We will ensure that their legal rights are respected. We are working with the Mass Rehab Commission, the Mass. Commission on the Blind, the Mass Office on Disabilities, and the Mass Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, private sector vendors, and the open source community, to ensure that accessible ODF supporting applications are available. Our current effort to work with the community of persons with disabilities to bring accessibility to the office applications supporting ODF parallels the Commonwealth's leadership in the 1990's of the effort to work with Microsoft to ensure that its office applications were accessible.

Fourth, there seems to be a misconception that adopting the ODF standard creates a procurement preference or will limit competition. In fact, adoption of ODF, an open standard that can be supported by any vendor, throws open the door to an enormous amount of new competition. Even the vendor that currently owns 90% of the Executive Department's office applications, has recently announced support for an open format, PDF, and is therefore clearly capable of supporting ODF, if it chooses to do so!

I thank you for allowing me to describe the highlights of our position today, and request an opportunity to respond in person today or later in writing to arguments raised by opponents of the ODF standard.