Citizens win with interop standard

By Leon Engelbrecht
Johannesburg, 26 Oct 2007

The Shuttleworth Foundation is hailing the publication of the Minimum Interoperability Standard (MIOS) for Information Systems in Government as a "big deal" for ordinary citizens.

"It is a big deal because it uses open standards instead of a vendor's specifications, so it is much more inclusive," says the foundation's intellectual property fellow Andrew Rens.

"Open standards are important for e-government. In e-government, the State interacts with citizens through ICT, which can make interaction efficient for citizens and government. Section 32 of the Bill of Rights places a duty on government to make information accessible to citizens," Rens adds.

"But if government were to use only closed formats, accessible only through proprietary software, that would constitute a limitation on the right of access to information."

MIOS sets out government's technical principles and standards for achieving interoperability and information systems coherence across the public sector.

"MIOS defines the essential prerequisite for joined-up and Web-enabled government," the document says in a forward signed by public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi. "Next to security, it is an essential component in the overall e-government strategy."

The document stresses that adherence "to the MIOS standards and policies is mandatory".

"They set the underlying infrastructure, freeing up public sector organisations so they can concentrate on serving the customer through building value-added information and services."

Rens says MIOS and, in particular, its adoption of the OpenDocument format (ODF) "shows government is serious about e-government, and serious about interoperability. In a knowledge society, open standards are essential to effective democracy."

Providing choice

The Shuttleworth Foundation, which has long supported open standards, adds that MIOS will boost competition in the IT industry for government business.

It notes that tender specifications have been used to lockout some vendors in favour of others, which amounted to "the State using its power to give one vendor an advantage over others".

"Historically, a particular vendor's specifications might be referred to, which meant that vendor was the only one with a chance to supply in that area.

"However, with open standards, such as ODF, there are a number of vendors who all comply with the ODF standard approved by the International Standards Organisation. This means that government will have a choice while, at the same time, interoperability is assured.

"Interoperability is essential so that different branches of government can share information and work together."

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