Document war

The competition of standards for word processing documents is increasing. Infosys technologies, TCS and Wipro have joined the 21-member Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) committee to decide between Microsoft’s OOXML Open (Open Office Extensible Mark up Language – a platform for word processing software) and Open Document Format (ODF), promoted by IBM and Sun Microsystems. The decision, to be taken shortly will determine the standard in which all electronic documents will be stored in future.
Industry bodies like Nasscom and MAIT have also jumped on to the fray but their stand remains inconclusive as they have both parties (Microsoft and IBM-Sun Microsystems) as members. Other members C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) have also joined the committee for deliberations.

India needs to submit a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote to ISO along with 123 countries to make Microsoft’s OOXML an ISO standard. Rival ODF Alliance led by Sun Microsystems and IBM is opposing OOXML.

Interestingly, IIT Delhi and IIT Mumbai have been kept out of the committee’s meeting. The IITs have been raising technical concerns (like compatibility with other software) in OOXML. Some experts like IIT professors are raising questions as to why a separate document standards of OOXML needs to be adopted when a fully functional ODF standard already exists and has Indian implementations also. Further, OOXML has only one known implementation.

The rival Sun-IBM combine is reported to be backed by IISc, IIM-A and Red Hat. There are about 200 technical issues like full backward compatibility and conversion identified with OOXML.

Members from MAIT, CDAC, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Reserve Bank of India, Indian Statistical Institute, Indian Institute of Science met with BIS and Ministry of IT as observers in a day long meeting at the BIS’ office in the capital. The meeting remained inconclusive and final voting is due. Despite its importance, not many IT companies have come forth proactively on the issue. If India has to chart its own course in technology, Indian academics and IT companies should take control of issues.

OOXML opponents claim that in case of a sanction by US, documents may get locked in a particular standard as it’s owned by a US-based company. Microsoft however claims that the standard is completely open and has no proprietary ownership. ODF alliance also claims that rather than spending more on costly operating systems India should opt for open source software and spend its money on promoting IT literacy instead.

Our organizations are inherently weak in standardization procedures, s our cultures are till person dependent. Many good systems of the past have been carried way by those who have resigned, retired, or left, thereby putting a block on the organizational learning process. It is not infrequently heard “we used to do this before,” after new procedures have been set down though problem solving processes.

We have come to a stage now where we cannot relearn what has already been learnt before for there is a genuine constraint on companies to show superior performance in the market place.

It is this context we stress on the necessity for strict documentation. Many companies and perhaps even consultants, feel that too much documentation should be avoided if the real benefits of Total Quality are to be seen. The improvements under Cross-Functional teams problem solving are standardized, as are those under departmental goals. Similarly every problem will have to pass through the process of standardization if it is to be meaningful for continuous improvement the existing systems certified under ISO becomes a vibrant and dynamic document. In the case of Internal Customer Interfaces, actions taken after agreement between departments and which have been implemented are also converted into departmental procedures, so that the problems do not recur.