Open Document Format (ODF): guidance for UK government

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Support and training

Training and support options for the different users of ODF in your organisation.

Train users of office productivity tools

There are potentially 3 different user groups for Open Document Format (ODF) in your organisation, each with different needs in terms of support and training:

  • users of office productivity tools
  • technology teams who need to migrate from tools based on proprietary formats
  • developers who are integrating or extending software based on ODF

Most office document applications function in a similar way. For example, word processor applications will likely have many features in common. The skills to use one will usually be enough to use another.

Most commonly used tools can also already create and save documents in ODF and can be set to do so by default.

So moving to ODF doesn’t necessarily mean you need to provide extensive training.

Identify what your users need

Before you create a new training plan you should identify how much your users know or can find easily without help.

Tell your users as early as possible that they’ll be using a new format. Teach staff how to check for ODF versions and how to check their documents before sending.

Spreadsheet users should be aware that spreadsheets converted to ODF version 1.1 rather than 1.2 will probably be missing formulas.

Training if you replace your existing tools

If you’re going to upgrade or replace your tools, diagnostic testing or user research could tell you how much your users know about the new options. To train them, you could plan one or more of:

  • online, self-supported study (usually low cost)
  • using material from commercial publishers
  • using open content you can customise, rewrite and republish
  • support from super users - a network of experts
  • training provided by a third party

Formal qualifications for users

You might consider encouraging some users to take formal qualifications as part of their personal development plans.

In the UK, the e-skills Sector Skills Council manages ITQ, the national vocational qualification for IT users. Most providers of the ITQ focus on learning units related to office software. You should choose a provider working with an official awarding body such as The Learning Machine Ltd (TLM), which publishes its materials online as open content. TLM is accredited as an awarding body by Ofqual in England and the Department for Education and Skills in Wales.

Members of the UK’s Open Source Consortium provide training that leads to TLM qualifications. These are official qualifications that use well-known open source ODF implementations such as LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice as a starting point.

Training and support for technology teams

Many organisations have been exclusively attached to a specific vendor and its applications and platforms, in some cases for decades. If this is the case in your organisation and those products cannot work with ODF documents or be adapted to do so, you’ll need to plan for change.

Your technology team may have received training relating only to a single product or supplier ecosystem. Some may have careers that are directly linked to proprietary certification schemes. They may perceive a move to ODF as threatening their career prospects and this can become a blocker. You need to prevent or modify these perceptions in order to make the most of your organisation’s move to ODF.

Building your team’s capability

You should present the transition to ODF as an opportunity for your staff to broaden their knowledge and increase their skills. Approach this as a positive challenge for everyone involved.

You might want to consider:

  • offering training to your existing team
  • encouraging and rewarding those who are enthusiastic about the change and getting them to lead on the implementation of ODF
  • recruiting new team members who can pass on their knowledge to your existing team

Bringing in skills from outside

You might want to find organisations that can provide strategic advice on how to successfully move your organisation away from locked-in, proprietary software. You should look for experts who have broad expertise and are not linked to specific vendors.

You also might need to bring in knowledge, skills and experience if there are gaps in your current team. You could:

  • use freelance experts or companies (local SMEs or larger companies)
  • set up a cooperative agreement with a similar organisation
  • hire experienced staff to work within your organisation - any external, temporary capacity you hire should help to build internal capacity
  • allow people within your organisation to develop the right skills outside your organisation (eg through secondments)

Be vocal about what you do. If a team member has gone on a course or a secondment, ask for a write-up or a presentation that can be shared with technology colleagues across government.

Support, service and development

Vendor-owned solutions

Support levels and arrangements will vary for ODF applications that are exclusively owned or operated by a specific company.

Vendors often have a network of official resellers, integrators, service providers and freelancers they work with. They help to configure software, provide training, and provide phone support.

If a company is unwilling to provide support when you need it, there may be alternatives.

Add-ons could be available for the vendor’s product, for example. If you need specific ODF functionality in Microsoft Office, for instance, there are existing open source add-ons that provide support for track changes, font embedding, ODF fallback mechanism, form controls and other standard ODF features.

These solutions won’t be available when the source code of the product is unavailable, or application integration has been refused by the vendor.

Open source solutions

For an open source project, there are no restrictions on who can provide support, service or training. There are no fixed minimum rates, and people can work for you directly.

If you have a long-term development or training need, you might consider employing your own developers or trainers. This might be possible for a fraction of the licensing cost you’re paying for software. You’ll build capability within your organisation and you’ll be in a better, more informed position to deal with vendors.

Your organisation can choose to work with:

Apache OpenOffice provides a list of experienced partners you could consult. LibreOffice has an accreditation scheme, acknowledging certified developers and migration professionals, professional trainers and support professionals.

If you want to develop a solution using open source but aren’t sure where to start you can:

  • ask peers for advice and guidance
  • search for advanced users who can help out
  • join up with another organisation in a similar situation to combine funding and share expertise
  • ask community experts for advice

Support for using developers with ODF

Code from open source applications is particularly flexible for reuse by developers, who can use it to create exactly what your organisation needs. Your organisation also might consider getting involved with communities working on projects that are helping you provide better service to your users. This can involve contributing financial or human resource, although not all communities are equally open to external participation. An organisation can also state its user requirements, make a budget available and outsource everything.

Different models for development also have different financial implications. You should take into consideration the potentially large difference in cost between:

  • purchasing a licence for every user in your organisation
  • sponsoring a feature
  • hiring a developer as a freelancer
  • allocating a staff member to develop what you need

One benefit of the last option is that as your organisation’s knowledge, skills and experience increase, so does the amount of control you have over the conditions, cost effectiveness and security of your IT.

Open source

Open Source Consortium (OSC), the UK’s open source industry association, sponsors conferences and other events related to open source.

You can contact them for help finding recruiters that can match your needs with specialists who have a background in open source. When dealing with open source it’s advisable to recruit people familiar with it, and to ask people with a strong open source background for advice with hiring. Many such experts are available through SMEs.

Openforum Europe maintains an open source library that includes information and guidance on managing issues that arise with open source rather than proprietary solutions, and government open source policies.

Helpful organisations, tools and events

There are no official support services for standards, but the OpenDoc Society offers tools such as Officeshots and ODF Validator to the user and developer community.

The OpenDoc Society also organises events such as the ODF Plugfests and provides resources such as programming recipes for developers and the website opendocumentformat.org. They’re able to offer limited support to organisations moving to ODF, for instance by helping them connect with technology providers and open source communities.

If you want to learn more about the standard, or are interested in specific subjects such as accessibility or advanced collaboration, you should consider joining the OASIS ODF Technical Committee.

Open Document Format is also an international standard. Your national standards body (eg BSI in the UK, NEN in the Netherlands, ABNT in Brazil or GOST in Russia) might be able to provide training.

Support on the development of the standard

If you’d like to make a suggestion regarding or have a question about the ODF standard itself you can:

  • contact members of the OASIS ODF Technical Committee, which includes freelance technical ODF experts
  • email the OASIS dedicated public mailing list
  • contact your national representative on the international standards board (ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34)

ODF is built on the XML standard, so you can also contact an organisation such as XML Guild that brings together many high level XML and standards experts from around the world.