Mass. Softens Stance on Proprietary Software

Massachusetts, the lone holdout among states that sued Microsoft, is now making "best value" rather than open source its main criteria for IT acquisitions.

Massachusetts has finalized its IT acquisition policy, moving from what originally appeared to be a shift toward specifying open-source software to more of a focus on open standards.

In an announcement Monday, the administration of Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney finalized its new open standards for IT acquisitions, basing the criteria for government IT procurements on "best value" and setting guidelines to help reduce the total cost of ownership of systems, "while enhancing flexibility and performance," the administration said. The new policies went into effect on Tuesday.

Massachusetts, the lone holdout among states that sued Microsoft Corp. and later sought more stringent penalties against the software giant, caused a flurry of speculation and anxiety amongst proprietary software suppliers last fall when state officials denounced proprietary software as disjointed and leading to lock-in. While not exactly an about-face, the states final policy has softened from earlier rhetoric.

In a September memo that helped touch off a firestorm of debate on the issue, Eric Kriss, secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance, wrote to Peter Quinn, the states chief information officer: "We can no longer afford a disjointed and proprietary approach that locks up legacy systems, generates excessive use of outside consultants, and creates long, often misguided project plans. ..."

Yet, in a recent letter to Kriss, Massachusetts State Sen. Marc Pacheco challenged the administrations push to promote open-source software as "preferential" and possibly against state laws.

However, in this weeks Enterprise Information Technology Acquisition Policy statement, the Romney administration said: "The Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure that information technology solutions are selected based on best value careful consideration of all possible alternatives including proprietary, public sector code sharing and open source solutions."

Kriss, in a statement, said, "Our intent is to ensure fair competition between all possible solutions so that the Commonwealth will get the best value for its IT investments."

Massachusetts has an IT budget of $80 million.

The Massachusetts acquisition policy said for IT investments, "a best value evaluation should, at minimum, consider total cost of ownership over the entire period the IT solution is required, fit with identified business requirements, reliability, performance, scalability, security, maintenance requirements, legal risks, ease of customization and ease of migration."

The new policy further spelled out the distinctions, saying: "For all prospective IT investments, agencies must consider as part of the best value evaluation all possible solutions, including open standards compliant open source and proprietary software as well as open standards compliant public sector code sharing at the local, state and federal levels."

"The tools are now in place to make sure we conduct comprehensive best value evaluations for all our information systems," Quinn said in a statement.

Next page: State defines "open standards."