Fellow BTL blogger David Berlind calls the Massachusetts vs. Microsoft battle over open formats the "new ground zero for the biggest battle this industry has seen in years." Some might scoff at that as journalistic hyperbole, but I agree with him. I think more states, and maybe some federal agencies, will jump on the bandwagon and this will prove to be a watershed event; when dozens of governments–and all their contractors–are doing business without Office, CIOs in other industries will be sure to take note. Here are the three important dominoes that have lined up in this battle.
The Enterprise Technical Reference Manual (ETRM) that is at the heart of this battle is part of Massachusetts' IT governance process. Governments, particularly state governments and federal agencies are big on enterprise architecture and IT governance. I think the reason comes down to a need for governance in large, distributed organizations and a belief that governance matters. NASCIO, the National Association of State CIOs has been working on enterprise architectures and IT governance for years now and it's taking hold. Consequently, the ETRM process isn't unique to Massachusetts. Most states and federal agencies have something similar and those documents carry a lot of power. David's comprehensive report on the process Massachusetts followed in the ETRM process should be a must read for any government CIO or IT manager. This may seem like a big yawn to IT managers in private industry, but this sort of thing is day-to-day business in government IT operations.
States are under enormous pressure to open up IT systems and preserve public records in open, readable-by-posterity formats. This pressure comes from three sources: FOIA-like laws, eGovernment, and archivists. FOIA and its state counterparts make nearly every document a government employee creates a "public record." eGovernment argues that government processes should be open to all–even those without Microsoft Office. Archiving government records in a way that they are accessible in 20, 50, or even 100 years is a real concern for government agencies.
Microsoft has used strong-arm tactics against states in the past and I'd bet continues to do so. I doubt there are very many CIOs in state and federal agencies who wouldn't love to abandon Office and its licensing fees, if they thought their users would let them get away with it. When they see Massachusetts managing without Office, that fear will be gone. Being first is a big fear for most government IT groups. Massachusetts is paving a path that other states will find much easier to follow.
These three come down to means, motive and opportunity–it's going to be very tempting for other CIOs to pull the trigger.