Massachusetts has appointed a new CIO and made it clear that his job will be to forge ahead with implementing the controversial OpenDocument format, set to go into effect in January 2007.
The new CIO, Louis Gutierrez, will step into the shoes vacated by Peter Quinn, who stepped down Jan. 9.
Quinn, the man who championed the adoption of ODF in Massachusetts, had been buffeted by the concomitant controversy and attacks that turned personal.
In particular, the Boston Globe ran an article about Quinns purportedly unauthorized travel to conferences.
A subsequent review by the governors budget chief fully exonerated Quinn from any wrongdoing, but the damage was already done.
A request made to the Globes ombudsman two months ago to investigate the articles origin has not yet been answered, according to Andrew Updegrove, a partner at the Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP and the editor of ConsortiumInfo.org.
The current policy of the Commonwealths IT Division mandates that documents created by state executive branch agencies must be saved in the OpenDocument format by January of next year, with the goal being to implement a standard developed in a standards body that would free the state from the control of one company over its proprietary code.
Massachusetts first moved to standardize on ODF on Sept. 1, when the proposal was first approved.
Microsoft, which stands to lose substantial revenue from sales of its Office suite if governments widely adopt open source, hurried to protest the move.
Within two weeks, it had copied Gov. Mitt Romney on a 15-page comment that objected to the premise that ODF would better enable agencies to communicate with each other as well as to share data.
Politicians jumped into the fray, politicizing what many say is a technology discussion best determined by the experts—the IT Division.
Complicating the matter has been the fear that the disabled community would be less accommodated in the world of open standards than they have been by Microsofts assistive technologies.
That fear has been balanced by those who believe that open-source programs would offer not only sufficient technology to meet the needs of the disabled, but will do so quicker and turn out technology that will top Microsofts.
“It seems clear to me that having an open-source environment would allow for far more variety and innovation, including by the disabled themselves,” Updegrove said. “There are a lot of disabled, highly skilled programmers.”
Updegrove is also legal counsel to OASIS but was speaking from his own perspective, not on behalf of OASIS.
Gutierrezs appointment will be effective Feb. 6, according to an announcement coming from the CIOs immediate supervisor, State Secretary of Administration and Finance Thomas Trimarco. The acting CIO, Bethann Pepoli, will become deputy CIO.
A Shift in Posture
The Romney administrations posture toward the situation has clearly shifted over the past months.
In a surprising about-face, Trimarco in November signaled that Microsofts move to make Office XML a ratified ECMA standard could well make the format acceptable to the government.
He issued a statement saying that “The Commonwealth is very pleased with Microsofts progress in creating an open document format. If Microsoft follows through as planned, we are optimistic that Office Open XML will meet our new standards for acceptable open formats.”
The administration of Gov. Mitt Romney has since rededicated itself to ODF.
Indeed, the second paragraph of the news release stated that Gutierrez will be “responsible for overseeing the final stages of implementation” of the ODF proposal.
Updegrove said that the conflicting statements from the Romney administration are anything but random.
“The whole press release is clearly being used as a vehicle to convey the strong support of Romney for ODF,” he said.
The reason Romney is investing political capital in a technological debate likely has to do with Romneys intention to run for president in the next election, Updegrove suggested.
First, because Romney has continued to be asked about the ODF controversy, he had to decide how to come down on it, and he likely wouldnt want to be seen as flip-flopping going into a presidential race.
Second, the Abrahamoff scandal is likely influencing Romney, as politicians become leery of succumbing to aggressive lobbying, Updegrove said.
“What with the Abrahamoff scandal, and with Microsoft pushing very hard for a reversal, would you rather look like youre giving in to a special interest or would you rather look like youre standing up to a special interest?” he said.
Gutierrez brings a legacy of working with open standards to his new position.
Accepting the job means leaving his current position as chief technology strategist at the Commonwealth Medicine Division of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Prior to that, he worked at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, where he spearheaded the development of the states Virtual Gateway, a portal that integrates Web presences of 16 agencies.
“The Virtual Gateway is an example of how state government computing can be transformed through the application of open standards that interoperate with many kinds of technology and vendors,” Gutierrez is quoted as saying in the administrations release.
“As technology continues to evolve, there remain substantial opportunities to transform services and a need to plan for the long-term future of technology-infused operations.”
And regardless of the political winds that brought Gutierrez to the position, Updegrove said, Romney merits praise for doing the right thing.
“You have a governor whos deciding what is the smartest thing for [him] to do here, and really, to his credit, hes doing the right thing,” he said.
“Hes standing up to special interests, hes standing behind the recommendations of the highly skilled professionals that he hired. Hes keeping with a policy, hes going against the political maneuvering of [Massachusetts Secretary] William Francis Galvin and others on Beacon Hill, [the location of the Massachusetts State House]. Hes sticking with it.”