Swedish public organisations lack policies on how to maintain electronic documents, and fail to understand the importance of open standards, researchers from the University of Skövde say in a paper published this month. "This is in stark contrast to stated central government policy."
The past few years the two researchers, Björn Lundell and Brian Lings, have been testing how Sweden's public administrations are using open source and open standards. The two presented their most recent results at the Sixth International Conference on Open Source Systems, (OSS 2010) which took place in the South Bend, USA between 30 May and 2 June.
Earlier this year they tested how all 290 municipalities in Sweden manage their electronic documents. They requested copies from the first municipal council meeting in 1999, the last municipal council meeting in 2008 and a copy of the oldest minutes available in electronic form.
Many councils, 40 percent, were not able to provide the 1999 minutes. In one case a municipality replied it does not store documents electronically. Others admitted having erased all the documents from 1999, wrote that they could not find the minutes or replied that technical issues prevented them from submitting the documents: "A different system was in use then, which we do not have access to today."
"After only ten years there are problems with accessing or reading files that are known to exist", conclude the two researchers. In a number of cases this was because the file is stored in a proprietary format only accessible with legacy tools. "The oldest minutes are not available and the minutes from 1999 should be available but the tool has been phased out from the organisation. Your request has triggered our IT department to resurrect the software", replied one municipality.
The two also found that some more modern documents could no longer be correctly opened in the most recent version of the proprietary word processor that created them. "Interestingly these same files could be opened correctly in an open source tool, OpenOffice."
The research by Lundell and Lings are part of the OSS 2010 conference proceedings.
Public authorities in the country are increasingly turning to open source software, according to a recent study by Kammarkollegiet, Sweden's Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency.
The agency says Linux is replacing the proprietary Unix and proprietary office suites are being replaced by OpenOffice. Public administrations are also turning to the Drupal and Joomla open source content management systems and are replacing proprietary database systems by the MySQL and PostgreSQL database management systems.
How Open Are Local Government Documents in Sweden? A Case for Open Standards (preview)
The sixth international conference on Open Source Systems
Kammarkollegiet's seminar on procurement (in Swedish)
Kammarkollegiet's paper on procurement (pdf, in Swedish)
Earlier OSOR news item