Open Standards in Massachusetts: Executive Summary of Remarks

Executive Summary of Remarks:<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /><o:p></o:p>

An Open Forum on the Future of Electronic Data Formats for the Commonwealth<o:p></o:p>

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John G. Palfrey, Jr.<o:p></o:p>

Executive Director, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” /><st1:place><st1:PlaceName>Berkman</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType>Center</st1:PlaceType></st1:place> for Internet & Society<o:p></o:p>

Clinical Professor of Law, <st1:place><st1:PlaceName>Harvard</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceName>Law</st1:PlaceName> <st1:PlaceType>School</st1:PlaceType></st1:place><o:p></o:p>

<st1:date Month=”12″ Day=”14″ Year=”2005″>December 14, 2005</st1:date><o:p></o:p>

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The <st1:place><st1:PlaceType>Commonwealth</st1:PlaceType> of <st1:PlaceName>Massachusetts</st1:PlaceName></st1:place> is making history by considering a policy that would ensure the long-term integrity of our data.  The importance of this process cannot be overstated.  The implications of a policy that supports the development and implementation of open standards, if done right, would have substantial positive implications over the long run, here in the Commonwealth but also in other states and countries around the world.  The Commonwealth’s leadership in this area could establish a model for others to follow, as it has so many times before on so many issues.<o:p></o:p>

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Several things are at stake in the move to such a policy:<o:p></o:p>

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  • Interoperability: Creating and maintaining an open information ecosystem that achieves interoperability between computing environments, applications, and sources of data – whether created last year or 25 years from now – is the primary motivation for moving to an open standards policy.<o:p></o:p>

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  • Access and Control: Ensuring that citizens and the state have access to our data and the ability to control our data long into the future, grounded in the knowledge that electronic data is becoming more and more important.<o:p></o:p>

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  • Choice and Cost: Establishing a truly open standard can ensure that the Commonwealth, over the long-term, has the greatest range of technology choices and the lowest technology costs through competition.  An open policy is not one that results in lock-in to a single technology vendor, nor one that precludes any vendor – which may be the most competitive – from participating.   <o:p></o:p>

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  • Innovation: Promoting the continued innovation in information technology, on Rte. 128, in university computer science labs, and in garages throughout the Commonwealth and beyond, supporting economic development in the process.<o:p></o:p>

A policy for the Commonwealth that supports open standards, if properly conceived and implemented, can help to achieve these goals.  The legislature and the executive branch have a hard job.  That job is not to choose between competing technology vendors, circa 2005, in a fast-changing marketplace — a marketplace which may in fact establish, and re-establish, other open standards over time, all based off of the same concept of XML (consider, for instance, the “web 2.0” version of this discussion and witness the dramatic changes in the syndicated technologies space — with RSS, Atom, and OPML and their ilk over the past few years — which, to all but a few visionaries, were unthinkable as possible “open document formats” a short while ago).  The key is to ensure enough flexibility in the process so that those who know the technologies and the implications of any changes can help the state to adjust its approach on the fly as progress, inevitably, marches on.<o:p></o:p>

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Information technologies are increasingly important to our democracy.  A policy that seeks to ensure a citizen’s access to information and a citizen’s ability to transform data with as few constraints by those who make technology as possible is a worthy one.  These goals should not be pursued by the state without the active involvement of the technical community; the legislator needs to get to know the technology developer much better.  The question before the Commonwealth today is not whether to strive for such lofty goals, but rather how to meet the challenge of crafting and implementing a policy that will in fact achieve them over the long run.<o:p></o:p>

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