US state CIO defends ODF plan

Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez said last week that he doesn't envision "a full-scale, completed implementation" of the state's controversial Open Document Format (ODF) policy by its January 2007 deadline. But in his first in-depth interview since Feb. 6, when he became CIO and director of the state's Information Technology Division (ITD) for the second time, Gutierrez told Computerworld that he also doesn't foresee the state taking a "wait position" with respect to the ODF policy, which applies to the government's executive branch. A status update on ODF is due by midyear, he noted. Excerpts from the interview follow:

How committed are you to the Enterprise Technical Reference Model that the ITD announced in September and to the ODF policy that's part of it? One of the reasons that I was glad to take up the assignment to come back to ITD is that I do believe in the technical reference model objective, and I very much believe in the important role that the [division] has in promoting standards. I'm proud and grateful to promote and defend a standard like this.

Do you think your predecessors made a sound decision with respect to ODF? I do think that this was a far-seeing and very thoughtful objective, and I think that's one reason it has resonated the way it has. It has captured the essence of an important notion about openness, about standards, about the way documents are used and will be used. I've signed up to do the execution, and I have a lot of work to do on implementation planning and on addressing concerns of accessibility advocates. But I do think this is the right direction to be going.

Is that based on a desire not to tie up documents in proprietary formats for the long haul? I would add a different angle on this. In the world of government work, we think of these documents as being somehow memos that individuals save to disk, and somehow we want those records to live a long time, and there might be a long thread of arguments around that. But truly, the records management topic is the prerogative of records management people, and I want to focus on the benefits to an executive department of state government. The world that we're entering is one of much more workflow of structured documents and knowing in great detail and controlling your document formats. Open-standard document formats are absolutely the future of where things are heading.

Microsoft doesn't support ODF and has raised objections about the policy. Have you been trying to work out a compromise? We're not talking about a compromise to the policy if Microsoft were able to work with ODF. One benefit of an open-standards policy is to allow much greater competition among office suites on the desktop. And furthermore, there are circumstances where low-cost and open-source office suites are the right solution, and other circumstances where Microsoft Office, were it to comply with the policy, would be appropriate as well.

Have you been trying to impress upon Microsoft the need for an ODF converter? We've been trying to impress upon them that our policy is not an anti-Microsoft policy, that we would be very interested in ODF converter capabilities for a number of reasons. It simplifies and makes less costly some of the implementation we would need to do. And it avoids months of question marks over whether Microsoft Office products will ultimately qualify under the policy.