NZ and the D5 Charter

A couple months ago, I became aware of the fact that on 9 December 2014, our Minister of Internal Affairs, Conservation, and Health, Hon Peter Dunne, signed the D5 Charter on behalf of NZ.

In doing so, NZ joined the countries of Estonia, Israel, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom in this aspirational Charter intended to encourage its signatories to show leadership in all things digital, and to collaborate on best practice.

The Charter signatories commit to the following 9 "principles of development":

  1. User needs - the design of public services for the citizen
  2. Open standards - technology requires interoperability and so a clear commitment to a credible
    royalty free open standards policy is needed
  3. Open source - future Government systems, tradecraft, manuals and standards are created as
    open source and are shareable between members
  4. Open markets - in government procurement create true competition for companies regardless of
    size. Encourage and support a start-up culture and promote economic growth through open
    markets
  5. Open government (transparency) - be a member of the Open Government Partnership and use
    open licences to produce and consume open data
  6. Connectivity - enable an online population through comprehensive and high quality digital
    infrastructure.
  7. Teach children to code - commitment to offer children the opportunity to learn to code and build
    the next generation of skills
  8. Assisted digital - a commitment to support all its citizens to access digital services
  9. Commitment to share and learn - all members commit to work together to help solve each other’s
    issues wherever they can

Back on 11 March 2016, I tweeted to the Government's Minister for Internal Affairs who signed the D5 Charter, Peter Dunne, to ask what progress, if any, has been made in working towards these (in my opinion) very worthy goals. It resulted in this wee twitter thread:

First, I'd just like to say: how cool is NZ and the fact that I can tweet to a Government Minister on a Friday night and effectively initiate a policy discussion in a few minutes?!

I did end up ringing Colin MacDonald, the Government Chief Information Officer and Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs (Dunne is his minister), but he was on holiday at the time.

A few weeks ago, I ended up speaking to MacDonald's Deputy GCIO, Tim Occleshaw, for a good 45 minutes. We talked about Open Standards, and one of my major bugbears, the fact that the NZ Government Electronic Tendering System, where government agencies submit Requests For Proposals (RFPs) so that they can, for example, procure software and IT products from vendors (both domestic and foreign). GETS is web based (and has recently received a long-overdue upgrade...) but most government RFPs are made available via a collection of files, containing the specifications to which vendors need to tender, terms of engagement, and various other supporting documents. Most also include a "template" for responding vendors to use. Many of these crucial documents are supplied in one of the proprietary or "effectively-proprietary" file formats used by Microsoft Office (DOC/X, XLS/X, etc.). In practice this puts companies who don't (or can't, e.g. those running Linux) use Microsoft products at a substantial disadvantage in responding to RFPs due to the vagaries of file compatibility with those proprietary formats.

To my surprise and delight, Tim Occleshaw not only agreed that the MS formats were problematic (i.e. they were not open standards despite the ISO standard acquired for the OOXML family of formats) but he also agreed to pursue with the Ministry for Business, Innovation, and Employment (responsible for GETS) the possibility of ensuring that GETS also require open standard file formats - namely Open Document Format variants - whenever MS proprietary formats were uploaded, to "level the playing field". He said he would also look into the feasibility of allowing only open standard formats. Amazingly, I have since received a phone call from a James Collier from the Department of Internal Affairs to give me an update on progress (which sounds positive)!