PDF won't cut it

Summary:The recent move by Microsoft to support PDF in Office 12 has some asking whether or not that will pour oil on troubled waters and allow Massachusetts government employees to go on using Word to edit and store documents.  By my reading of the Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Manual (ETRM), the policy that governs data formats and standards for the State, PDF won't work.

The recent move by Microsoft to support PDF in Office 12 has some asking whether or not that will pour oil on troubled waters and allow Massachusetts government employees to go on using Word to edit and store documents.  By my reading of the Massachusetts Enterprise Technical Reference Manual (ETRM), the policy that governs data formats and standards for the State, PDF won't work.  Here's what it says about open document format (ODF):

The OpenDocument format must be used for office documents such as text documents (.odt), spreadsheets (.ods), and presentations (.odp). 

Notice the word "must" in there.   Here's what it says about PDF:

The PDF format may be used for documents whose content and structure will not undergo further modifications and need to be preserved. Agencies can use a number of proprietary and open source products to create PDF files.

Notice that it says "may" and gives a condition to guide when PDF is appropriate: for documents that won't be edited further.  The PDF section is under the header "Other Data Formats" leading one to believe that it's not considered a "primary" format by the ETRM. 

You may think that the policy only applies to documents that are going to be on a Web site or otherwise used by the public, but the heading to the data formats section (where the OpenDocument requirement lives) states (emphasis is in original):

It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that all official records of the Commonwealth be created and saved in an acceptable format as detailed below.

"All" is a pretty high percentage.  An official record can be almost any document that any government worker touches.  There's probably a legal definition somewhere in Massachusetts' law, but we would be pretty safe in assuming that anything that could be requested under the State's equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act constitutes an official record and that's almost everything.  When I became CIO for Utah, I was shocked at how wide the definition of "official record" is.  I can't imagine thousands of state workers storing their working documents in PDF.    The fact that this sentence is in bold type is a big clue.

It's difficult for someone from the private sector to understand the amount of work that goes into a document like the ETRM before it's issued by a state CIO.  The review process is long and every point is scrutinized and argued over.  I don't think that Peter Quinn and his co-workers chose these words lightly.    I think they know exactly what they say and what the ramifications are: PDF doesn't cut it.  Nothing short of Office support for ODF will do. 

Things can change.  CIOs come and go.  But until they do, I think Microsoft is going to have to put up or shut up in Massachusetts.

Topics: Microsoft

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