Mass. open-standards policy is official

Massachusetts has issued the final version of a controversial policy that promotes use of open standards.

The governor's office announced the change this week, and one analyst predicted that the state's push for open standards could affect the operating systems environments.

"Massachusetts is definitely on the cutting edge of something big," said Jim Krouse, manager of state and local market analysis for Input Inc., the Reston, Va.-based market research firm. "Use of open standards and open-source software could lay the groundwork for a national interoperable infrastructure."

Massachusetts Information Technology Division, part of the Office for Administration and Finance, developed the policy as a way to reduce total system cost while enhancing flexibility and performance, the governor's office said. The new standards are effective immediately.

"Our intent is to ensure fair competition between all possible solutions, so that the commonwealth will get the best value for its IT investments," said Eric Kriss, Massachusetts's administration and finance secretary.

The new IT policy:

  • Splits last year's draft, "Open Standards and Open Source" policy, into two separate but related documents.

  • Sets a rule that all IT investments be open-standards compliant.

  • Requires agencies to consider possible alternatives, such as proprietary, open-source and public-sector code sharing, in determining best-value solutions.

  • Mandates that ease of system migration be part of the procurement objective of minimizing total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the IT investment.

  • Greater use of open source software is troublesome to many software companies because the shift will almost certainly result in a considerable loss of future business, according to analysts and industry experts.

    Following a public comment period, the state's final documents on enterprise open-standards policy, enterprise information technology acquisition policy and the enterprise technical reference model are intended to clarify the technical distinctions between open standards and open-source software.

    Open computing systems have been a growing trend for many years, Krouse said. At the state government level, open standards will help ensure that government jurisdictions are not building silos that are incapable of sharing data, he said. Leaving new technology investments "open" helps ensure that seamless systems integration will be possible in the future, he said.

    Open-source software, on the other hand, could dramatically affect operating systems, Krouse said. If such software were to become widely adopted by state and local government, major technical obstacles would be removed, thus paving the way for a new open-source operating environment that could become the norm for national interoperability, he said.

    About the Author

    William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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