New York State Electronic Records Report

The CIO and the Office For Technology of New York State (USA) just released a new report on electronic records strategy, titled A Strategy for Openness: Enhancing E-Records Access in New York State.

I submitted my own comments during the call for public comments earlier this year -- apparently there were only 114 comments submitted by the public (you can see the call for comments and an overview/analysis of the responses). I wish there'd been more, since it looks like the 59 individual commenters were overwhelmingly supportive of a requirement for the Gov't to use ODF. The rest of the comments were from governments, NGOs, and businesses, and they don't seem as unanimous as the individual commenters.

Looking at the metadata for the executive summary shows just how far we have to go:

[0 dkg@squeak doc]$ pdfinfo PartIerecordsStudy.pdf  | egrep '^Title|Producer|Creator'Title:          Microsoft Word - PartIerecordsStudy.docCreator:        PScript5.dll Version 5.2.2Producer:       Acrobat Distiller 8.1.0 (Windows)[0 dkg@squeak doc]$ 

And in a message sent to commenters announcing the report, they seem to be aware that they're not quite doing their best at interoperability:

(Please note this is the first time any of NYS government's agencies has ever published a document in ODF format. We ran into problems this morning not caused by the format, but rather with some controls on our systems which were not prepared to encounter such documents. So the website links to ODF versions are not working at the moment, but will be repaired soon).

What web server are they running that is having trouble "encountering" ODF? No surprise:

[0 dkg@squeak doc]$ wget -S -O/dev/null '' 2>&1 | grep Server  Server: Microsoft-IIS/6.0[0 dkg@squeak doc]$ 

Sigh. My initial reaction to the report (i've only read the executive summary, not the supporting documentation) is disappointment. While they claim that "openness" is an important feature, they fall far short of taking a strong stand for free and open formats. The main thrust of the executive summary seems to be (paraphrasing here, i welcome corrections):

While these are unsurprising conclusions, they don't take the strong stand i'd like them to take. They seem aware of the "chicken and egg" problem of wide adoption and vendor support, and aware of the anti-democratic effects of proprietary formats. But they don't seem to be willing to act as a catalyst to push free formats explicitly. If they did, they could break the chicken/egg vendor lock-in cycle and facilitate better open government practices while simultaneously encouraging a healthy information ecosystem.

At this point, i suppose my biggest hope from the process is that the proposed ERC forms pilot groups with long-term goals modeled after Munich, but i'm not holding my breath. If there are any advocates or participants in the Munich process who want to share what's been working for you (and what hasn't), i'd be interested in hearing about it.

Tags: government, odf, policy