NO proprietary formats in Italy, please!

It’s so sad that this is still necessary…

(this is my own partial translation, and comment, of a VERY IMPORTANT, official complaint about IT procurement for italian municipalities, just filed by Roberto Guido, president of the Italian Linux Society. Any error in the translation is mine only)

The problem: no public document formats… in Public Administrations???

A survey conducted in recent months has revealed a rather serious situation regarding the adoption of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) by hundreds of small public administrations in Italy: one of the largest suppliers of document management software, adopted by about 1700 municipalities throughout Italy, only supports documents produced in proprietary formats managed by Microsoft Office, and strongly recommends its use (also fueling its own license resale business).

A complaint was therefore submitted to the Italian Court of Auditors (specifically to the Section for Control of Public Bodies and to the Central Control Section on the Management of State Administrations in which that Court is invited to intervene with the aforementioned supplier to obtain greater integration [of their product] with the free and open formats recommended by the Agency for Digital Italy, in order to achieve… a higher adherence to the technical and operational standards defined by official regulations.

The complaint

I, the undersigned Roberto Guido… point out a very widespread anomaly among small municipalities distributed all across Italy.

With minimum effort, I was able to identify some calls and assignments, all published over the last 12 months, with which several small municipalities have requested and acquired licenses of the Microsoft Office software application.

Consequently, I individually contacted the representatives of each tender, to ask clarifications about their non-compliance with several official guidelines (see below), despite the well-known availability of alternative and more compliant solutions.

Unfortunately, several of those municipalities completely ignored the request for generalized civic access made pursuant to article 5 of Legislative Decree 33/2013 and subsequent amendments. The answers from the others (attached to this complaint) were surprisingly similar to each other.

In addition to several more or less specific factors, the common one expressed by all those administrations is incompatibility of the IT management system they currently use with documents generated in formats other than those native of Microsoft Office.

Some administrations cited their own negative experiences with other digital formats (which they had, however, on their own laudable initiative, tried to adopt). Others mentioned explicit recommendations from the supplier of their document management system.

Investigating further, I had to acknowledge that all those municipalities, in different parts of Italy, share the same IT management service provider, i.e. the company Halley Informatica srl, which appears (following a research perhaps superficial and not exhaustive, but in any case indicative) to cover the same role in about 1700 Italian municipalities (about 20% of the total).

Given the unanimous testimonies attached, it may be assumed that all those 1700 municipalities are equally subject [to the same constraints, that is] to massive, repeated non-compliance with official government directives whose purpose is to contain and rationalize public spending, harmonize digital information processes and flows and encourage free competition on the IT solutions market.

The company Halley Informatica srl, contacted both by e-mail and by PEC (certified email) for explanations on these limitations of the service they provide, and to receive any indication on the future availability of support for digital formats recommended by the Agency for Digital Italy (AgID), never provided any answer.

Therefore, considering"

  • the italian “Digital Administration Code”, which asks public administrations to acquire “computer programs or parts of them in compliance with the principles of economy and efficiency, investment protection, reuse and technological neutrality, following a comparative technical and economic evaluation of the following solutions available on the market”, as well as to prefer FOSS
  • the AgID “Guidelines on Software Acquisition and Reuse for Public Administrations”
  • the “Guidelines on the Training, Management and Conservation of IT Documents”, also by AgID
  • the Memorandum of Understanding between the italian Ministry for Technological Innovation and the President of the Accounting Judiciary to “promote the spread of public management practices that lead to cost savings and better performance from a technological point of view”.

I hereby ask the Court of Auditors to solicit, with the means and channels it deems most suitable, the aforementioned company Halley Informatica srl to adapt as soon as possible its products to the above regulations, guaranteeing full support to the digital document formats they expressly recommend, or to evaluate - together with AgID - the revocation of the qualification of SaaS (“Software as a Service “) service provider to Halley Informatica srl, as required by article 6 of the” SaaS Services Qualification for the italian Public Administration Cloud “.

Why did I provide this translation?

Because it is a real scandal that, in 2020, any public administration (not to mention schools and universities, that are even worse), anywhere, still refuses files in e.g. Open Document formats.

Because (to name just three of countless examples)…