Interoperability and standards

As reported by Geir Nøklebye, and picked up by Slashdot, Phil Windley and others, the Norweigian government has presented a new plan for information technology in Norway. At the press conference yesterday, the Norwegian Minister of Modernization Morten Andreas Meyer declared “Proprietary formats will no longer be acceptable in communication between citizens and government”, Nøklebye reports.

The Norwegian plan is called eNorge 2009. It is only available in Norwegian (indeed only in one of the Norwegian languages; fortunately the one I understand), but I hope they will translate it. In my translation, here are two very central quotes on open standards:

“Public authorities must use open standards in their IT and information systems. Deviations from this must be substantiated.”

“By 2009, all new IT and information systems in the public sector must use open standards.”

The plan introduces the term Government Standards (forvaltningsstandarder), and emphasises that such must be based on open standards. By 2006, Government Standards for data and document exchange must be established, the plan says.

Way to go, Norway!! That’s a pretty bold move. And also, I think, one that will pose a few challenges.

A couple of days ago, IBMs Tom Glover, who serves as president and chairman of WS-I, wrote about Barriers to Interoperability. Tom notes that interoperability is often achieved through the use of standards. He presents a 10-point list of standards-related but non-technical barriers to interoperability:

  • Closed policies, processes, and development groups
  • Intellectual property encumbrances
  • Lack of rigor in standards development
  • Misuse of standards as a means to erect barriers to competition and trade
  • Challenges obtaining standards credentials
  • Creating standards which don’t work together
  • Competition to create standards
  • Domain specific terms, concepts, etc.
  • Large, complex, “all or nothing” standards
  • Lack of standards clarity or awareness

I think these 10 barriers (read about them in Tom’s blog) are all relevant and real.

The challenge question is what do we do about these barriers? Live with them? Destroy them? Work with/around them? Command and control? Compliance enforcement? The Norwegian plan says that further investigations into the means of realising the policy must be made. That is pretty much where we in Denmark have started, that is, by looking at ways to actually realise the usage of open standards, and by investigating the potential consequences hereof on society, the economy and market situation. As I have already mentioned, I am very interested in connecting with anyone looking at the econometrics of open standards.

For understanding standard compliance management, Anthony Finkelstein has drawn a useful map:

Maps like this are useful, and we need stuff like this to achieve the goal of openization. Basically, openization is a process, or perhaps rather, a web of interrelated processes. I’ll write more on openization soon, and look forward to being able to announce significant news on this soon too 🙂

Anyway, I think we – and here I especially mean governments like Norway – should look wide and far for inspiration to our work. For example, when in another context I was rereading Chris Argyris and thinking about his ladder of inference model, I found his ideas relevant to our discussions here: When talking about open standards and interoperability, Don’t Leap Up That Ladder of Inference!

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