Along with Open source and Open standards, we now have a new phrase; i.e. Open Government.
What does Open Government imply for standards?
Let’s take a step back. Prior to 1999, I used to work for an ERP vendor. ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) is a complex class of software that is typically intended to manage all the functions of a company (such as Accounts Payable, General Ledger, Billing and so on). Inspite of their complexity, there was a mad scramble to install ERP systems which was mainly motivated by the Y2K deadline.
However, did ERP really make a difference in terms of innovation?
ERP was all about internal functions of an organization, the ‘plumbing’ so to speak. It made very little difference to the customers as to what billing system a company used or what General Ledger the company used.
Last week, the White House adopted Drupal, the Open source content management system which has a strap line of ‘community plumbing’. Whitehouse.gov is now running on Drupal. However, like ERP, if it is used only for internal functions (aka ‘plumbing’) – it should make no difference to anyone at all…
After all, Whitehouse.gov is a pretty structured website in terms of its content; photos of the President, videos, some blogs, information on legislation etc. And that content is mostly structured (apart from comments). One could argue that Drupal has many extensible libraries that third parties can build. But so do many other platforms.
Thus, the adoption of Drupal should be viewed more as a symbolic gesture for the use of Open Source; and in that role lies its greater significance and implications for standards.
Tim O’Reilly discusses the wider impact of the Drupal announcement under the concept of Gov 2.0.
The introduction of the terms Open Government/ Gov 2.0/ ‘Web 2.0 for Government’ adds to two already complex terms i.e. ‘Open Source’ and ‘Open Standards’. As viewed by Tim O’Reilly, Open Government is the concept of ‘Government as a platform’ which could also be seen as ‘Web 2.0 for Government’.
Web 2.0 itself is a philosophy i.e. a broad concept based on the foundation of Data, which many people wrongly equated to specific technologies (like the AJAX programming language).
Similarly, Open source (the technological foundation) is not necessarily needed for Open Government (which could be viewed as the concept/philosophical foundation of ‘Government as a platform’).
The question of whether Governments should mandate specific standards or technologies is more complex. Today, in the minds of most people we have a benevolent administration in the White House. But administrations can change every five years, and often they do. And consequently, enthusiasm for Government led ideas can wane.
The philosophy of Openness is correct, as is the idea of ‘Government as a platform’. However, just like Web 2.0, its technological implementation may be varied.
The standards for Open Government may be independent of the technology that is used to implement its internal systems as long as the philosophy of Openness and the idea of the ‘Government as a platform’ is maintained.