Group urges IT open standards in report

A road map aimed at guiding governments and companies in the development of open information and communication technologies was presented Friday at a World Bank meeting in New York by a group comprised of academics, government officials and industry representatives. The Open ePolicy Group contends that the adoption of open standards is vital to global economic growth and innovation.

"Almost by necessity, a new openness, fueled by a wave of information and communication technologies (ICT), is evolving and unlocking the efficiencies, standardization and flexibility needed to propel the transformation of governments and businesses," says the report, which included input from representatives of 13 nations and is spearheaded by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. IBM and Oracle have also been involved in the project leading to the report.

Open standards are defined by the group as those that are not proprietary, or owned by any one company, and that are published and freely available for use by developers. However, the road map does not focus on any one aspect of what the group calls an open "ICT ecosystem," but covers various components. Such an ecosystem "encompasses the policies, strategies, processes, information, technologies, applications and stakeholders that together make up a technology environment for a country, government or an enterprise. Most importantly, an ICT ecosystem includes people -- diverse individuals who create, buy, sell, regulate, manage and use technology."

The report was well received during the World Bank meeting, said members of the Open ePolicy Group, speaking after the road map presentation. "I characterize the response as truly interested, engaged, asking as far as I could tell, just the right questions, that were really interested in the tension points, between open source on one hand and open standards on the other," said Charles Nesson, founder of the Berkman Center and a Harvard law professor.

Those from developing nations asked questions from the perspective of what the road map offers to them, he said, adding that such an approach to ICT systems "offers a real avenue for developing nations," giving them "a measure of control, a measure of freedom."

An open ICT system allows for interoperability across "diverse architectures," is user-centric, collaborative, sustainable and flexible, according to the report, which grew from a meeting arranged last February by the Berkman Center. While the report distinguishes open standards from open-source software, it says that both open-source software and proprietary software can be components of an open-standards approach.

A standard is open when it has six elements, the report says. Such a standard "cannot be controlled by any single person or entity with any vested interests" and further evolves and is managed is a "transparent process." Such systems also are "platform independent, vendor neutral and usable for multiple implementations," as well as being "openly published," and "available royalty free or at minimal cost." The standard also is open if it is "approved through due process by rough consensus among participants."

Though the report says proprietary software can be part of open-standards systems, the ePolicy Group's road map comes out at a time when Microsoft's Windows is under increasing pressure from open-source advocates worldwide. In an effort to lower costs, enhance open systems, enhance security and promote local developers, national and municipal governments around the world have started drafting policies that call for adoption of open-source software.

The ePolicy Group report says that governments should be among the participants in the process that leads to open standards and "play a critical role in the adoption and endorsement of open standards," and contends that government policy should mandate choice in technology.

The report outlines specific open ICT ecosystems employed by various nations, including Denmark's eBusiness initiative, aimed at creating a centralized ordering and invoicing process that is expected to save the country Euro 160 million (US$198 million). Denmark's initiative uses work by the OASIS Universal Business Language Technical Committee.

"For many governments, open ICT ecosystems are becoming a key element of their economic development strategy. They see a virtuous cycle of openness increasing access to technology and market opportunities for local industries," the report says. Open systems also foster competition, which is good for users, and drive economic growth, innovation and efficiency.

Interestingly, the 33-page report opens with a recounting of last December's tsunami that sounds eerily akin to similar issues that arose after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the U.S. Gulf Coast not quite two weeks ago. "Responding agencies and nongovernmental groups are unable to share information vital to the rescue effort," the report recalls of the government in Thailand in the tsunami's immediate aftermath. "Each uses different data and document formats. Relief is slowed; coordination is complicated. The need for common, open standards for disaster management was never more stark or compelling."

The government in Thailand created a common Web site for registering missing persons and also made open file formats "an immediate national priority," the report says.

The road map is meant to be a starting point for consideration and "a catalyst for changing mental models globally about ICT ecosystems and pathways to innovation," wrote Jeff Kaplan, director and founder of the Open ePolicy Group, in an introduction to the report. The group's Web site is

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