This is the text for the testimony I delivered to both the Texas House and Senate this last Monday, March 24. The words I said varied from this because of time constraints and also some additional comments supporting or questioning previous testimony.
Good afternoon/evening, Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. IBM supports this bill. This bill is about the future, increased competition and innovation, and about more choice for Texas. It is completely consistent with the technological and intellectual property directions of the software industry.
The current file formats for how you save office document used by most of you and your citizens are based on technology and practices from the 70s, 80s, and 90s when some companies locked customers into their products and upgrades. This is not acceptable today.
When you and your citizens are effectively restricted to a single software supplier to access government information, you and they pay what I would consider taxes. Open standards avoid this.
The first tax is the difference between what you must pay to that supplier vs. the lower cost if multiple suppliers existed and prices had to be competitive. You would also pay an innovation tax. The sole vendor has limited reasons to improve the product. Fresh ideas from new players such as Texan entrepreneurs are kept out of the product category. This is bad.
Those who are against this bill are, in essence:
- comfortable with having a single supplier,
- satisfied with procurement policies that allow you to only have a single supplier for government document software, and
- just fine with paying the financial and innovation taxes above.
IBM is not fine with the status quo. Neither were the drafters of this bill. Nor are most industries; those in life sciences, education, healthcare, and so on, that are trending toward “openness.” With the creation of the Internet and the Web, based on open standards such as HTML, the value of real open standards has been seen.
Think how much easier, more affordable, more transparent it is for you to collaborate within government and connect with your citizens because of the Internet and email, blogging, and all that has come from open standards. Now it is the time to take this collaborative power to documents and open them up giving control to governments and choice to citizens.
IBM joined our industry colleagues to work on an open standard for file formats, namely, the OASIS/ISO OpenDocument Format (ODF). File formats are merely blueprints for how a document is structured ” headers, footer, paragraphs” and how it should be saved and exchanged. OpenDocument Format is being openly and actively developed by a community of global experts from many organizations and is seeing broad implementation in independent ways from both open and proprietary sources.
Its adoption rate is growing. Teenagers are using it. Politicians are using it. Some CIOs in organizations that officially use only proprietary formats are using ODF at home when it comes time to spend their own money and technical expertise to pick products for their personal use. The huge and growing base of Open Office users are saving and distributing files in ODF format. The next generation of IBM’s Lotus Notes will support it later this year.
So why do you need legislation on this?
First, Texas as a sovereign state and a major force in the IT market and must, in my opinion, be able to do anything whatsoever with the office documents you create. This means today, but it also means the documents you create tomorrow and will be the historical records fifty years from now. You have the opportunity to clearly make a statement that Texas will not be beholden to any vendor for access to your state’s information.
Second, change is happening now and users will, over time, get new applications that use new document based file formats. I have never met a CIO or financial person who has told me that they will never get new software. So, there’s a fork in the road approaching rapidly and you must choose: go with a single supplier and pay those taxes I mentioned, or go with truly open document formats that are not dictated by a single vendor and get increased competition, innovation from many parties, and real choice of software and its providers.
I can assure you that the software we have in fifty years will work in radically different ways and will be supplied by completely different providers than we know today. We must leave our options open and, luckily, with ODF, we have an excellent choice compared with any alternative. Further, personally, I would rather bet on the “intelligence of the crowd,” the collective smarts of the IT industry who truly manage open standards to set us up for success in the next few years. Relying on one vendor to optimize things for his or her success is yesterday’s solution.
Third, to be clear, EVERYONE can implement a true open standard. This bill is about choice. ODF and open standards for file formats will drive choice of applications, innovative use of information, increased competition, and lower prices. Personally, I think these are good things.
In closing, the world is shifting to non-proprietary open standards based on the amazing success of the World Wide Web, a success that was far more important than any single vendor’s market position or ideas for what was right for the world.
We can do this again but we need to do it with care. Texas is in a position to demonstrate to its citizens and the world that this success is repeatable and that it intends to be a leader. Texas can show that the phrase “open standard” means more than what a corporate marketing department says it is.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, open document standards are insurance policies for your documents, versus a history-losing accident waiting to happen. I thank you for the opportunity to testify in support of the bill, and would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.
I have a longer discussion of the tax points in the original blog entry “Avoid the single supplier document taxes.”
Addendum: Avi Alkalay of IBM Brazil has posted a translation of this into Portuguese.