Doc Format Legislation - elevating a great comment

Here is a comment submitted to an earlier blog posting about doc formats. For those of my readers who don't know, my mother was a member of the NY State Assembly for a decade and her Chief of Staff (if that is the right title) recently posted into my blog a thoughtful comment. Michael has a great combination of real knowlege about state-level law-making, and technology depth (Masters in Information Technology I believe). Anyway - rather than talk for him, here is his comment. I am writing a longer piece which I hope to post shortly about all the legislative activity, and I can assure you I am going to have to consider Mike's points as I write.

 Originally Posted 3/4/07 as a comment:


I have some questions that I think would be useful for a lot of people to think about and answer, including you. These issues have been troubling me for some time.  As you know, the California Assembly introduced AB1668 ( and the New York Legislature is being actively lobbied to do the same (by IBM).   I personally do not think this issue is an ODF vs Microsoft XML thing, I think it is far more insidious than a simple contest on who is better or which standard should prevail.

This topic is a question of public policy and whether or not this in the best interest of the people. The other big question is whether or not a legislature should interrupt the fair procurement practices of a State and force standards on multi-million dollar enterprise level systems.  To be honest many of the Assemblyman barely no how to use a computer much less make a decisions on ODF and XML.

Here is the section of the bill that really bothers me:

Beginning on or after January 1, 2008, all

documents, including, but not limited to, text, spreadsheets, and

presentations, produced by any state agency shall be created,

exchanged, and preserved in an open extensible markup language-based,

XML-based file format, as specified by the department.

Many if not a vast majority of the documents created by governments are made by automated means.  New York has an enormous computer infrastructure producing 10's of millions of documents weekly as defined by the bill AB1668.  The way this bill is written would cause an enormous fiscal burden to the state forcing them to rewrite many of the legacy systems to bring it into compliance with the proposed specification   Many states including New York have Archival rules in place to handle the long term access to these records, in NY it is called “SARA" ( . These regulations maintain that the state archives come up with rules and Best Practices on archival and the retrieval of documents, in addition, when records should be destroyed or disposed of. This is an important point because some of the bloggers on this site contend we should be able to view records from the government for an indefinite period of time which is not the case by matter of statute.

Here are my questions for this fantastic and talented forum to consider:

What is the cost benefit analysis of this move to ODF when automated processes produce a bulk of the documents that the state produces?

Why are we forcing procurement requirements at the legislative level instead of using proper system engineering practices at the requirements building stage?

Does not the states procurement process already address these issues by forcing contractors to adhere to the states archival rules which allow vendors the flexibility to come up with the best technology for the state to use?

Why do these bill force specs on the systems that were never developed or designed with these standards in mind causing the potential of the reengineering of legacy systems.  (No grandfather clause)?

What do we as a society get in return for this massive investment?

Ultimately who gains from these bills?  I will answer one “IBM global services”

One more point.

A lot of people that use the ODF argument essentially say it’s some type of elixir where magically the state agencies will collaborate. ODF and XML will not help that or even come close to making that a reality until an enterprise wide data dictionary or Meta Data mapping repository is done. This issue is so complex I feel I do not have the time or patience to articulate myself on this subject. In addition there are so many rules and regulation on interagency data mining (for privacy sake) that this could be a topic all onto itself.

In fairness and openness I know Jason. I am not a fan or an enemy either Microsoft or IBM I think they both are awesome companies trying to grow and expand their market share. With respect this forum and feel that Jason is showing his integrity by taking it on the chin for Microsoft. The ODF standards community has a place in the enterprise level however with respect to this topic I see it more as a smoke and mirrors issue. I feel that the current rules and procurement practices in place protect the public far better than the various lobbyists tend to lead people (legislators) to believe.

This is an issue where if these bills become law one company clearly wins.  This issue and subsequent bills is big money where consulting and integration of large enterprise system becomes the focus not ODF.  

Please comment, I look forward to your critique or agreement.

Michael P. Ridley