integrated information is key to getting people to work together.

"It becomes an even greater challenge when there is a need to integrate information with external organizations," he continued. "Government will have to face this greater challenge if the vision of 'citizen-centric government' is going to be realized. Federal and state systems will have to be interconnected. This will not be achieved without open standards -- nor will it be achieved exclusively by open standards."

Working toward open standards can also save state governments money over the long term. Though open standards based software isn't necessarily less costly, Brown said, enterprises must focus integration costs.

Avoiding a patchwork infrastructure is impossible if the state is unable to control and manipulate all aspects of its IT infrastructure, he said. "IT products that conform to open standards will reduce the risks to time, cost and quality of integration. Sometimes these risks are not realized until well into the future, when the lack of open standards in the existing infrastructure will cause problems for integrating new services."

Cost is clearly part of Massachusetts' drive toward open standards, Massachusetts CIO Quinn said. The ability to use nonproprietary products makes it easier to share those applications, but still, it's not about cutting for cutting's sake.

"We're just not doing slash and burn. We're still making investments as we go, but when we make an investment, we apply total cost of ownership principles when we make any kind of acquisition. That is a practice that hadn't been here before," Quinn said.

A Communal Approach

"We're trying to get to an environment of appliance computing where we can have interchangeable parts," Quinn said, noting that though the policy articulates a goal of building toward open standards, it also sets the stage for a singular IT presence in the commonwealth. "There has never really been an overriding set of enterprise standards in the commonwealth, and always the mantra I've talked to people about is being one IT community, that we have to figure out how to succeed together or we'll fail separately."

Architects from all agencies are working with Massachusetts CTO Bob Stack to contribute to standards that comply with the new policy, Quinn said, and the ITD is stressing a communal approach. Using open source software and tools increases the opportunity to devise creative ways to share information.

"Open source has never really been considered an avenue for folks in the commonwealth in the past," he said. "We really believe we're opening up the choices, and we hope, opening up the opportunity for innovation in a way that hasn't always been present in the past. We're thinking about IT in a much more enterprise approach, a more portfolio look at the applications we develop and a more participatory, communal environment."

Open Channels

Massachusetts isn't alone in its drive to build open standards, but publicly linking open source products to that goal is unique. Early in 2003, Oregon tried something similar. State Rep. Phil Barnhart sponsored a bill to mandate state agencies considering open source software when deciding to procure new software.

The bill generated lots of headlines, as well as conspiracy theories. Proponents of the bill said powerful trade groups mounted a cloak-and-dagger campaign against it, successfully killing it. Critics of the bill said it was unnecessary because state agencies could already use open source products. In the end, Oregon's Speaker of the House pulled the bill before it made it to a committee vote.

Massachusetts avoided what happened in Oregon because Eric Kriss, secretary of administration and finance, decreed that open standards and open source will be a part of the commonwealth's IT strategy. One thing Quinn said he found is there's plenty of interest in open source in government.

"We're getting a lot of free advice from folks," he said. "We're trying to listen to see what makes sense and what doesn't, compile the information as we go and see if it's meaningful in our environment. We've got folks around the country, my counterparts in the other states, that are very interested."

He said other states are interested in two things: the economic opportunity, because states are struggling to do more with less; and the opportunity to share, both from an experience standpoint and a development standpoint.

"If somebody builds it we all get it," he said. "But we all enhance it, and then everybody gets to contribute it back to the larger community."

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor