SA government adopts Open Document Format as standard

The Department of Public Service and Administration has set out the requirements for what it considers to be an open standard for implementation in government departments. The document it published is called the Mininimum Interoperability Standards for Information Systems in government (MIOS) and it sets out a series of standards which government departments are required to adhere to:

Improved public service delivery tailored to citizen and business needs, as envisioned in the e-Government Strategic Framework: Accelerating Service Delivery 2014, published in 2007, requires the seamless flow of information across all tiers of Government. The Minimum Information Interoperability Standards (MIOS) sets out the Government’s technical principles and standards for achieving interoperability and information systems coherence across the public sector. The MIOS defines the essential pre-requisite for joined-up and web enabled Government. Next to security, it is an essential component in the overall e-Government strategy.

Adherence to the MIOS standards and policies is mandatory as set out in the proposed chapter five of the Public Service Regulations. They set the underlying infrastructure, freeing up public sector organizations so they can concentrate on serving the customer through building value added information and services. It is the responsibility of individual departments to improve their business processes so that they are more effective, and to take advantage of the opportunities provided by increased interoperability.

The main thrust of the framework (in line with international best practice), is the adoption of a structured approach with regard to information systems. To achieve this approach, and to ensure the enhancement of interoperability across Government, a minimum set of standards are included in this document as a required Government-wide standard. To this end, this updated version of MIOS contains an explicit definition of Open Standards as well as the inclusion of the ISO (International Standards Organisation) Open Document Format.

The objective of achieving interoperability must be managed as a long-term ongoing initiative. In this regard the Government Information Technology Officers Council, (GITOC) which consists of representatives from all Government Departments including provincial and local Government, are crucial and instrumental in carrying this objective forwards and through to implementation.

It is also essential to ensure that MIOS remains up to date and aligned to stakeholder requirements, so that it can embrace the potential of new technology as well as market developments. In this instance, collaboration becomes a critical success factor for the formulation of strategic synergies.

What this all comes down to is that the government is phasing in technologies that support open standards which is, in turn, the cornerstone of this policy framework:

2.3 Open Standards

2.3.1 There are number of definitions of open standards which emphasise different aspects of openness, including of the resulting specification, the openness of the drafting process, and the ownership of rights in the standard. The list below contains frequently cited indicators of the openness of a standard. For the purposes of the MIOS, a standard shall be considered open if it meets all of these criteria. There are standards which we are obliged to adopt for pragmatic reasons which do not necessarily fully conform to being open in all respects. In such cases, where an open standard does not yet exist, the degree of openness will be taken into account when selecting an appropriate standard:

  • it should be maintained by a non-commercial organization
  • participation in the ongoing development work is based on decision-making processes that are open to all interested parties.
  • open access: all may access committee documents, drafts and completed standards free of cost or for a negligible fee.
  • It must be possible for everyone to copy, distribute and use the standard free of cost.
  • The intellectual rights required to implement the standard (e.g. essential patent claims) are irrevocably available, without any royalties attached.
  • There are no reservations regarding reuse of the standard.
  • There are multiple implementations of the standard

While this document may not explicitly say so, it pretty much excludes Microsoft’s Office Open XML as a candidate for acceptance in terms of this framework barring some fundamental changes to the OOXML specification and how it is maintained and developed. This decision is fantastic news for open access advocates and even better news for South Africans who don’t have access to expensive, proprietary software.

For more on this, take a look at this article on Tectonic.

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