Back to the Future: Another chance to influence COE development
As Kayelle noted earlier in the week, AGIMO’s Common Operating Environment (COE) policy is now finalised and available on the web. Since it was released, there has been a range of discussions about aspects of the policy in posts and comments on several online news sites (e.g. here, here, here and here). Much has also been said on Twitter – mainly at #AGIMO. Support has varied – there have been positive views and negative comments. Several people suggested we hadn’t been open about this – despite blog posts (here and here) and various presentations. As Andrea DiMaio from Gartner has pointed out, we really tried hard to get public comment. Since people seem to have more to say, we have reopened the discussion in the hope that constructive criticism will inform future versions of the policy.
Before reading new comments, please take a moment to view the background on the document standard issue.
What standard does AGIMO support?
The intent of the policy is to mandate a file format that fully supports the primary office productivity suites used within government agencies. Based on a survey conducted in 2010, a large number of agencies (representing the majority of the desktop fleet) have signalled their intention to move to either Office 2007 or 2010 as part of their next upgrade.
To support the capability of these office productivity suites, the Office Open XML format, based on the ECMA-376 1st edition, was chosen to provide the greatest level of compatibility. The Office 2007 format is based on the ECMA-376 1st edition and the Office 2010 default format is based on the ISO/IEC 29500 “transitional” standard. The ISO/IEC 29500 “transitional” standard is very close (in practical terms) to ECMA-376 first edition. Because of the similarity between the standards, files created in Office 2010 can be used without significant issues in Office 2007.
Other formats were considered, but after careful consideration and discussion with the agencies it was agreed that many existing documents would not be properly converted by these other formats.
Importantly the policy does not exclude other formats from being used but seeks to ensure that at a minimum one common format can be accessed on all Australian Government computers.
The following table shows a range of office suites and their compatibility with the various standards:
|Microsoft Office 2007 SP2||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Read/Write|
|Microsoft Office 2010||ISO/IEC 29500 Transitional||Read/Write|
|ISO/IEC 29500 Strict||Read|
|Microsoft Wordpad 6.1||ISO/IEC 29500||Read/Write|
|SoftMaker Office 2010||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Read/Write|
|OpenOffice 3.2 and above||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Read|
|iWork||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Import|
|ECMA-376 1st Edition||Import|
|IBM Lotus Notes||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Import|
|Kingsoft Office||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Import|
|Google Docs||ECMA-376 1st Edition||Import|
Note: ODF refers to the ISO/IEC 26300:2006 Standard.
What’s the difference between the minimum standard of interoperability we are seeking to achieve between agencies and the public-facing publication of documents by agencies?
The use of common standards promotes interoperability, provides common functionality and supports a consistent user experience. These standards applied to all users regardless of how the desktop environment is delivered. By using the agreed common standards, agencies can share services and reduce the need for duplication. Agencies will be in a position to implement an application or service, which can then be reused by other government agencies. The COE will enable agencies to respond more quickly to changing technology cycles as it facilitates more cost-effective upgrades and supports a move to more rapid adoption cycles, enhancing agency and government agility.
The COE policy represents the set of minimum requirements that agencies are required to use. Agencies are able to make changes to meet their business requirements. Agency modifications must not decrease or weaken the level of IT security endorsed by the policy.
The COE policy only affects the manner in which documents are exchanged between agencies. The requirements for accessibility mean that documents available to the public through government websites, for example, are published in alternative formats to ensure the needs of citizens are met.
What did the SOE survey discover?
In April and May 2010, AGIMO conducted a survey of Government Agencies to collect information about their current desktop ICT environments. The survey identified more than 265,000 PC operating environments across Australian Government agencies. Of these, more than 99.5% are Windows based operating systems. MACOS, Solaris and Linux were also represented but each had less than 0.5% combined representation. With regard to office suites, MS Office is used on more than 86% of the PCs. IBM Lotus Symphony is used on just under 13%, with Corel WordPerfect, Apple Office 2004/2008 and Open Office each being used on less than 1% of the PCs. In the survey, agencies were also asked to identify the major components to which they were planning to upgrade. Windows 7, Office 2007 and Office 2010 were identified as major components. No other Office Productivity Suites were identified. The results of this survey highlighted that the majority of agencies are already using or planning to upgrade to the standards identified in the COE Policy.
Which agencies were involved in the consultation for the development of this policy? What other consultations took place?
There has been extensive consultation. CIOs, users and technicians were all asked for and provided feedback. In October 2009, as part of its decision on Whole-of-Government desktop coordinated procurement, the Government agreed to a recommendation of the Desktop Scoping Study, which identified the development of a Common Operating Environment as a critical element in driving future savings in services provisioning and in increasing the flexibility and responsiveness of government operations.
The draft Policy has been available for agency review since June 2010. As changes have been agreed, the document has been updated and agencies notified of the changes.
In mid-April 2010, more than 100 agency Chief Information Officers were contacted, provided with the background of the Project and asked to provide members for the Working Group and the COE collaboration site. All the Government Portfolios (representing all the FMA Act agencies) provided representation. Working Group meetings were held in June, July, September, October and November 2010. The Government’s Chief Information Officer Committee (CIOC) endorsed the draft COE policy in early December, with the Secretaries’ ICT Governance Board (SIGB) endorsing it on 21 December.
As discussed above, the draft policy was published here on the AGIMO Blog as a discussion paper.
The development of the Policy was also informed by a pilot activity which ran from July to October 2010. The pilot was based on a Windows 7 upgrade.
Where to from here?
The COE policy is subject to annual reviews. The first of these will commence in mid-2011. Public comments on this post will be used to inform the review. We have taken the liberty of moving one comment already received about this issue on an unrelated post to this new post to kick the discussion off.
Please note that while we will maintain our liberal post-moderation policy, a Microsoft vs OpenOffice mud-slinging competition will do little to progress the policy.