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30.04.2008 Technology

Ghana To Set Standards For Interoperability

By Daily Graphic
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Interoperability is a term used to describe a situation where various software operating systems are reciprocally permissible to interface and operate smoothly.

This system is exemplified by how files stored or saved in a Microsoft office can open on other operating system platforms such as Linus, an open source enabled software, and the information used.

In a growing globalisation and exceptional increase in inventions in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), many operating system substitutes have flooded the marketplace, thus making the issue of interoperability very important, the world over. 

For example, Graphic Communications Group Ltd, a publishing house, accepts various files saved in various formats and with different operating systems such as Microsoft, Linux and Oracle.
This it can do because the various systems can interoperate smoothly without any difficulties, provided they are of the same generation, particularly the year of design of the software. 

Better still, interoperability would enable, say, the Finance Ministry, which may be using a Microsoft operating system, to interface its systems with that of the Controller and Accountant General's Department, which may be operating Oracle or Linux.

Microsoft Corporation earlier this year announced a set of broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to increase the openness of its products to drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for developers, partners, customers and competitors.

The strategy was built around implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering a more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

What is important is for a country to set regulations and interoperability standards to guide organisations, public and private, in their adoption of operating systems.

The Ghana Information and Communication Technology Directorate (GICTeD) has completed an E-Governance Interoperability Document, a set of standards that will guide how government ICT infrastructure is deployed.

The aim is to bring uniformity or ensure that systems adopted by ministries, departments, agencies (MDAs) and all public organisations can interoperate.
This will go a long way to ensure that all public organisations can be automated to work online, can place inter-agency requests for files and other forms of information and letters online and reduce paper work extensively.
This will save the government a lot of financial resources. The Director-General of GICTeD, Dr Sam Somuah, said when the standards are finally adopted, the government inter-office systems would be deployed based on a high degree of interoperability and it would be particularly compulsory for government agencies and ministries.

It is likely that the government would deploy Microsoft proprietary Open XML operating system as opposed to the Open Source, a free system, which, however, lacks the critical supporting human resource base in the country as of now. 

The likely deployment of the Open Office XML is because the International Standards Organisaton (ISO), recently by an overwhelming majority voted to adopt the system as opposed to its competitor, Open Source.

In addition, about 99 per cent of the government's documents are currently saved in Microsoft documents and this will ensure continuity and avoid disruptions when changing the operating systems.

Dr Somuah said at an interoperability conference organised by African Practice recently that, GICTeD had held discussions with all operating system vendors in the country and there would be working groups to review the standards and a consultant would soon be appointed to validate the work, which conforms with best practice.

Platform Strategy Manager, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands , Mr Guido Sohne, said Microsoft Interoperability was built around the customer, as such they collaborated with their competitors to ensure that the customer got value for money.

Microsoft Interoperability is built on four pillars: ensuring open connections, data portability, enhanced support for standards and open engagements, Mr Sohne stated.

He said the system ensured that information could interface with other operating systems, it was designed to make data portable by saving in smaller size formats and that the designs were started and concluded after a thorough interaction with the public and customers. 

Mr Sohne disclosed that Microsoft had designed a strategic plan to build skills in the ICT industry, through working with the universities and other ICT training institutions to build a critical mass of professionals to support the system.

Article by Samuel Doe Ablordeppey

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