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When IT, politics collide

Dec 05, 20052 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoftOpen Source

When technology collides with Massachusetts politics, the result is not pretty.

In September, Massachusetts’ Information Technology Division adopted a new “Enterprise Technical Reference Model” aimed at making it easier for state departments and the public to find and share information. It’s a wide-reaching document that, among other things, commits the commonwealth to a service-oriented architecture (read the reference model ). But what grabbed international attention was a provision that would ultimately require all electronic documents to be stored in Open Document Format, an XML-based specification developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

One guess which vendor’s desktop applications don’t support ODF. Microsoft, naturally, went on the offensive, sending lobbyists to Boston to persuade the state Legislature to overturn this technology decision. State Sen. Mark Pacheco, who chairs a committee that oversees state agencies argued that adopting ODF would be “counter to what open source is all about” (read more ).

But now things are getting really ugly. The Boston Globe recently reported that state officials are investigating whether Peter Quinn, the state CIO who oversaw the new plan, went to trade shows without authorization (he says he got an OK). The story hints at worse transgressions: “Even though a galaxy of computer companies are listed as sponsors of many of the conferences, Quinn did not list any of them on his authorization forms or the business relationships any of them have with the Commonwealth.”

Clearly, somebody fed the Globe a line of baloney. Trade-show organizers solicit “sponsors,” much like newspapers solicit advertisers. Accusing Quinn of wrongdoing for failing to note all the sponsors of a show would be like arguing that he should file a report for every copy of The Wall Street Journal he reads because network vendors advertise there.

One of Quinn’s allegedly unauthorized trips was to a 2004 meeting of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. The show was co-sponsored by Microsoft (see the conference Web site ). Does that mean Quinn might be secretly biased in favor of Microsoft? It’s enough to make the head spin. It would be ironic if high-tech Massachusetts begins to have trouble filling top IT positions because nobody wants to work for a state that will treat them like human pinballs.

Responsible for editorial content on this Web site, so blame him, especially when it comes to Compendium. In his spare time, he runs Boston Online, a service devoted to the Hub of the Universe. He is learning to talk wicked good.

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