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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Open ICT in Eastern Europe, and a Hint of ODF

There has been speculation about the likelihood that open technologies --- open standards and open source -- will take root in Eastern Europe. I noted before that the ODF Alliance has over 30 members from Eastern European countries. In general Europe is showing leadership in the evolution of open ICT ecosystems, including adoption of open source and the OpenDocument format.

Now there is specific news about open ICT in Eastern Europe, and it comes from Croatia.

The government has announced a broad policy to adopt open source software across the public sector, together with guidelines on the development and procurement of software. Although the "open source" element of the policy is making all the headlines, it is misleading to think that Croatia has issued a requirement that all software be open source. Rather, the government is taking a more balanced approach.

Open source will be preferred over closed source solutions. Closed source software is not shut out entirely. The government intends to support local development of closed source software that meets open standards and, interestingly, open file formats. Schools will present both open and closed software to students, thus equipping them to work and innovate in a world of mixed technologies.

Why the big move in Croatia? Three factors compelled the government:

* Control: The desire to break its dependency on vendors and escape the rigid commercial conditions imposed on them is strong among governments. Freedom from external limitations will allow the government--i.e., the user--to modify, extend or link software as needed. It also creates greater transparency and interoperability not only in terms of its technology but also for public information and services.

* Growth: The importance of promoting innovation and market alternatives in technology cannot be understated. Growth is both an economic and a political issue. Governments seek to build domestic ICT markets, and see open technologies as one strategy to lower market barriers for new innovators.

* Money: Money matters. Open ICT enables more rational distribution of budgets by creating an ecosystem in which there is greater collaboration (and cost sharing) in the development, maintenance, and use of ICT. This helps reduce the total public expenses of providing public services.

And the hint of things to come for ODF in Croatia? Consider what Domagoj Juricic, leader of the Central State Administrative Office's e-Croatia project, said:
The state administration bodies create and exchange a lot of electronic documents. There is a great danger that documents cannot be opened and presented in readable form after a certain time, because we don't have the licence anymore of the proprietary software, or the vendor can seize support of the old types of documents. Therefore we require the state administration bodies to use open standards for creating electronic documents.
Do I hear the sound of ODF knocking on the door in Croatia?

Open policies are an important step, but policies are only paper. Translating these policies into actual procurement will be key to actually changing how services, technology and people act.

A side note: Sam Hiser, who predicted an ODF move in Croatia, is well positioned to take the silver medal for ODF predictions. (I had guessed a possible move in Malaysia who announced official consideration of ODF in July.)

3 comments:

Domagoj Juricic said...

Thanks for the comments and for the interest you show upon our policy document. Exchange of thoughts and ideas are crucial now that we have policy and are on our way to the real action.
Kind regards
Domagoj Juricic
Deputy State Secretary
Central State Administrative Office for e-Croatia
Government of the Republic of Croatia

Jeff Kaplan said...

Domagog,

Thanks for offering your comments. You may be interested to know that we are organizing a new phase of our Open ePolicy Group. I think it would be interesting for us to discuss this. Maybe it is something that Croatia could be involved in?

- Jeff

Domagoj Juricic said...

Of course. It will be our pleasure.