Open Standards

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I am a strong advocate of royalty free open standards wherever possible, and I would like to encourage the NZ government to adopt a formal policy to mandate (a "recommendation" is far too weak given proprietary incentives) the adoption of software solutions which adhere to formal open standards. Where those standards do not yet exist, I would recommend that the government proactively define them, with assistance from industry, to ensure that vendors for government contracts should be vying to meet open standards rather than competing to set proprietary standards as is currently the case in most procurement. Everyone - government, business, the non-profit sector, and the taxpayer will benefit from a mandated level playing field for software solutions.

The status quo hands successful vendors a platform for lock-in - an in-built local monopoly based on the self-defined non-standard set of file formats, data schemas, and network and API protocols which they define. The prevailing vendor controls these unilaterally, and it provides a strong incentive to be as incompatible as possible with competing products, making future migration to different solutions complex - or consolidation of multiple solutions. We are already seeing grim examples of this lack of foresight with time consuming, risky, and eye-wateringly expensive system consolidation exercises being undertaking as part of the Auckland and Wellington regions' move towards "mega councils".

Open standards would not only provide a lingua franca in each solution domain (every council needs a water metering, and dog registration, and asset management, etc. solution - they should all be built around open standards), co-designed by the government experts and relevant vendor representatives: open standards also provide an objective metric, compliance with which any proposed or implemented solution could be rigorously assessed.

I have substantial experience with open document and government standards, and implementing compliant projects. The key standards in my opinion are Open Document Format, the NZGOAL and NZ Web Standards and Accessibility framework.

I would like to assist government agencies and vendors to those agencies develop open standards for every solution procured by NZ government, to ensure that all solutions paid for by taxpayer funds are vendor-neutral: the UK government have recently made a policy change for document exchange mandating the use of Open Document Format and other open standards - we could achieve far greater gains by doing it across all software domains.

Update: since writing this, we (the NZOSS) have launched an initiative called to request the NZ mandate open standards compliance for all government software use where it requires interaction with the private sector or citizens. I encourage you to have a look, and if you find the thinking compelling, please add your name in support!