IBM Opening Remarks at the Open Forum on the Future of Electronic Data Formats for the Commonwealth

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These are the opening remarks that I planned to give at the meeting at the Massachusetts State House this morning. What I actually said varied from this since I couldn’t resist ad libbing a bit. In any case, this is the gist of it and I think it directly gives IBM’s perspective.

Massachusetts panel on ODF
Photo of the panel at the Open Forum
Photo by and used with permission of Dan Bricklin

With respect to Senator Hart, Congressman Bosley, and Secretary Kimball, it is an honor and pleasure to have the opportunity to participate in this critically important dialogue with you, my fellow panelists, and all of you who have come here this morning.

In my brief introduction I would like to touch on three important issues:

First, I applaud the open nature of this event and the open process the Commonwealth has taken to arrive at the decision to use the truly open standard OpenDocument Format for its office applications by 2007.

IBM appreciates the opportunities that ITD made to listen to our views and those of industry on how best to move toward openness.

Through extensive consultations with us and others, the Commonwealth made the best decision possible for its citizens around how to store and preserve the history that Massachusetts makes every day.

You made the right choice. You arrived at the right conclusion with a finalized standard that is immediately usable. It is a model that other governments can look to. I congratulate you on your open process. Don’t turn back.

My second point is a bit technical but it concerns understanding the value of truly open standards vs. those that are under the control of a single vendor.

The world is changing: there are technological advances, new market conditions and a new era of productivity, innovation and wealth creation. What this based on? The World Wide Web, which, as you may know, is based on real open standards, many of which were created under the auspices of the W3C based across the river in Cambridge.

The web and the open standards that make it possible are not under the control of any single vendor and have enabled economic development and innovation — great new ideas — we could not have foreseen even ten years ago.

Similarly, we are now at the cusp of unlocking a new level of innovation, by unlocking documents. The ODF open standard — which is modern, technically elegant, implemented and maintained by multiple vendors and interested parties, with no proprietary extensions (what I like to think of as vendor-added “gotchas” that break your ability to share documents), and, I want to stress, is available today — can be the driver of the new generation of innovation, efficiency, and cost savings.

ODF enables real choice because it is not tightly linked to any one vendor’s implementation. It keeps the control of the software to use it with the Commonwealth NOT a vendor.

The Commonwealth has chosen an option that is available today — that will help it preserve its documents for generations, increase efficiency and flexibility, give it choice and control, and decrease costs. It will also drive great new ideas that, frankly, we can’t even foresee today, just as we couldn’t see everything the Web would bring us in 1995. These are some of the advantages of using truly open, non-vendor controlled standards.

For all these reasons, I congratulate the ITD for choosing ODF. Don’t turn back.

Lastly, I applaud the Commonwealth for making demanding needs of technology companies, for insisting that the customer, Massachusetts, is always right, as they say. Gone are the days when technology companies can or should push their products and control points on governments.

There was a time when vendors thought they could control all aspects of their customers’ installations of computer products such as software. We have all evolved, we have all learned, and the smart vendors have changed and moved toward more open technologies. It wasn’t just a good idea: it has become what the world demands. IBM learned several of these lessons firsthand a long time ago and we are a better company for it today.

Technology companies — and all companies that wish to work with governments — should be responsive to your needs. You determine your requirements — future access to data, lower costs, greater choice, higher degrees of interoperability — and how best to meet those requirements. We as industry respond.

ODF was developed by many of the companies and organizations represented in this room to respond to the demands we heard from governments and customers. I congratulate you on stating your needs clearly and asking industry to respond. IBM has responded — we support ODF and your decision. Don’t turn back.

I’ll conclude with the following: the thousands of new documents that you are creating every day will be best preserved and under your control if you start using ODF as soon as possible.

IBM is committed to this open process, to innovation, to your having choice and control, and to responding to your needs as well as to those of the many other governments around the world who are looking for the same things you are.

Let me stress this one final time: we are committed to continue to work with you and to the open standard OpenDocument Format. We are well convinced of its merits. (One last time …) Don’t turn back. Thank you.

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