Thursday, 21 April 2011

Time to walk the talk? – New Study on procurement practice in Sweden regarding open standards and document formats

A very good and in depth study was recently launched on procurement practice in Sweden. It is worth reading – freely available on the ePractice web site.

The study to some extend focusses on the use of open standards and on document formats. This is done against the background that, as Commissioner Vice-President Neelie Kroes had expressed earlier,

“No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to use a particular company’s technology to access government information.” (Neelie Kroes, 2008). Being Open About Standards. Brussels, June 10, SPEECH/08/317).

What Neelie Kroes had postulated as a basic direction for Europe has also been reconfirmed in the European Interoperability Framework (EIF), issued by DG DIGIT in December 2010. As one of the key recommendations made in the EIF, Recommendation 8 says:

“Public administrations should not impose any specific technological solution on citizens, businesses and other administrations when establishing European public services.” (EIF, Section 2.12)

This new study that was conducted in Sweden built on previous inquiries into the same topic area. These previous pieces of research had shown that there is a severe gap between such basic propositions and directions as listed above and the actual practice in governments in Sweden. This new study focussed on two key topic areas:

“In the first section, the municipalities were asked about document formats, specifically the format actually used by each municipality in their earlier communication with us. […] The second section related to software procurement, and in particular that related to software for
writing office documents.” (Study, p. 5).

The responses are very, very interesting. They show the full dilemma public authorities are in – especially regarding lock-in situations because of their continued use of proprietary office software that is not standards based. They show that the topics of interoperability and open standards are present in government considerations in Sweden. Clearly, awareness has increased a lot. Yet, actions and consequences are still missing.

All in all this study is very worth reading. My personal conclusion is that public administrations should start to be stronger on mandating open standards and requiring interoperability for the software used in eGovernment. It is time to walk the talk – and to push on making the objectives come reality.

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