Support and Training

OpenDocument is a file format, not an application or a service itself. Generic operational support on a file format standard is not really possible. If you want to know more about the standard as such, or are interested in specific subjects such as accessibility or avanced collaboration, you are encouraged to join the OASIS ODF TC.

OpenDocument Format is also an international standard. Your national standards body such as BSI (UK), NEN (Netherlands), ABNT (Brazil) or GOST (Russia) may be able to provide training.

Whether you need support other than support for the services you are currently using, depends on your circumstances.

If you currently mainly use products that do not adequately handle ODF and cannot be adapted to do so, you are facing changes. That means you will want to find people and organisations that deliver strategic advice in disentangling this situation, as you are moving to a standards based range of solutions. For strategic advice hire people or SME’s that have a broad expertise, and are not linked to specific vendors. That way you will get independent advice.

Each solution may require different support and training. The word ‘support’ is probably far too limited for what the new range of possibilities is in the new situation, and does not adequately describe the role that your organisation can play. Especially with open source applications, development can be customer-led to a very high degree. Many people think that open source only means gratis. It makes more sense to see open source code as a building block to create what you need. Your demands pay the bills of the developers, so you get listened to. If it so desires, an organisation can literally choose to be part of product research and development by allocating resources and participating in the communities behind projects that help them provide better service to users. An organisation can of course also voice its users requirements, make a budget available and outsource everything.

Open source is not product-driven or price-driven, but result-driven. At every stage you can set the priorities. Some communities are more open to participation than others, but if there is enough value for your organisation you can always move ahead the way you want.

IT cost is not cleanly related to the functionality and business value you get for your money. Your total cost is very much affected by the model by which you get charged – an expensive license for every head in your organisation upfront is very different from sponsoring a feature, hiring a developer as a freelancer or allocating a staff member to only develop what you need with the budget you have.

As your organisations’ knowledge, skills and experience increase, so does the amount of control you can exert over the conditions, cost effectiveness and security of your IT.

Before you start hiring

Many organisations have been ‘hardwired’ to a specific vendor and its applications and platforms, in some cases for decades. Within IT departments staff received exclusively product based training with materials from that vendor, with their careers linked to proprietary certification schemes also from the same vendor and their direct business partners. Such organisations were quite literally shaped around a limited set of products.

The government’s move to ODF is a big change in itself, and a big opportunity for change. The realignment of group professionalism with actual user needs, is a process that needs time.

It will likely take more than external knowledge, skills and experience to make change possible. Especially for IT management, the new reality could be perceived as threatening for their career and as a loss of autonomy and status. In many instances staff feel as if they are to be personally blamed for the monoculture. Assure them that this is not the case.

Try to design the migration to ODF and a standards-driven approach as something that is fun, and a challenging, positive opportunity for everyone involved.

Some suggestions:

  • allow your IT department to keep any budget they save by adopting alternative solutions. It will be more expensive if you don’t.
  • challenge your IT department to spend at least 10% of its re-allocatable budget on customising and developing open source office related functionality to make their offering more suitable for user needs.
  • allow your IT department to spend on training and education its own staff to broaden their horizon
  • get people with different skill sets (such as open source experts) to walk and work among your staff
  • reward the learning ability and willingness to change among team members
  • get the career perspective for everyone right. If people do not see a future for themselves, they will block.

Additional capacity

The success of a great IT department lies understanding user and business needs, and mastering a broad spectrum of technological possibilities – and operational excellence in bringing those two together.

In order to make the most out of your organisation’s migration to ODF, you do need the right human resources. If yours is anything like the typical organisation, you will need fresh knowledge, new skills and experience not yet present in your organisation.

There are many alternative ways to approach this:

  • use freelance experts or companies (from local SMEs to global players) as a flexible shell
  • set up a cooperative solution (‘shared service organisation’) together with similar organisation
  • hire core developers and qualified support staff to work within your organisation as regular staff
  • allow people from within your organisation to acquire the right skills outside of your organisation, and let them be vocal about it
  • describe what you need and set a developer bounty to reach certain functionality
  • invite advanced users to help your staff get a feel for the open culture you want to achieve

Each organisation will have its own reasons to chose among these approaches. Certainly you are not limited to just one. Whichever combination you choose, try to get the maximum out of external temporary capacity you hire to help with internal capacity building. This is where the real strength or weakness of your organisation lies.

Don’t forget to be vocal about what you do – people have to be reminded that you are in transition. If a staff member has gone on a course, ask for a news item on the intranet or a few words during a team meeting. If you hire an open source expert for some task, mail this around and invite your people to ask him or her questions.

Open source

If you want to increase your usage of open source, you can benefit from the existence of not-for-profit associations such as the UK’s Open Source Consortium (OSC) and COIS. These can act as the conduit between suppliers and customers, and offer access to SME’s and larger actors across the UK.

OSC can also help with finding OSS-friendly / OSS-safe recruiters. If you want to hire the right people to help your team make the jump, it is important to understand the characteristics of open source. It really involves quite a different mindset, so recruiters frequently misplace people. To be certain that people with the right skills and attitude are acquired, try to engage people with a strong open source background to help you out with hiring.

With the huge demand for open source technologies within corporates, there is matching demand for skilled people that know how to work with these technologies. Only recently, funds have been made available to train (or re-train) people on Open Source. Coding is now part of the national curriculum (as of this year). It will take a while for the next wave of skills to enter the market.

Many experts exist throughout the community already. Benefit from the skills that are available already through SME’s. These are traditionally out of sight for larger organisations such as governement, that are used to do business in a different way. Through an intermediary your organisation can reach both those smaller businesses as well as the larger actors that offer fitting services.

Product training and development of skills

Most vendors and open source projects understand that proper learning support for end users is essential for wider adoption of their offering. IT skills have always had good market value, so there is also a large third party ecosystem of publishers and trainers. Therefore there is a lot of material for training and self-training available, both from commercial publishers as well as open content you can reuse, rewrite and republish for your own purposes.

Operating software is not so much the issue, which is knowing and understanding why something might or might not work. We should not waste a lot of time replicating user skills that are common to all word processors, spreadsheets and presentation tools, when a better strategy would be to improve knowledge and understanding of the way to improve productivity and reduce dependency on technical support.

If you follow the recommendations in this guidance, ODF itself should be just an enabling technology. What materials you need to educate your users, really depends on the solutions you choose.

Besides the materials mentioned above, there are also more formal qualifications to be attained that are officially recognised. This may provide addtional value and motivation to your staff. In the UK, the e-skills Sector Skills Council manages the national vocational qualification for IT Users. Most providers of the qualifications are focused on the units related to office software. Choose a provider working with an official Awarding Body such as The Learning Machine Ltd, that publishes its materials online as open content. TLM is accredited as an Awarding Body by Ofqual and DCells, the regulators for qualifications in England and Wales.

Members of the UK’s Open Source Consortium provide training leading to TLM qualifications. These are official qualifications with well-known open source ODF implementations such as LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice as a starting point, although any software that meets the assessment criteria can be supported. If your solution is very specific, consider asking for the development of a bespoke online course to support the particular operating contexts while still leading up to an official qualification.

A reasonable place to start is in diagnostic testing. There are good experiences with on-line tests for thousands of pupils, feeding back to teachers what their pupils did and did not know. Diagnostic testing for the ability to operate the solutions you’ve selected, would then inform the best place to target training to get the best value from it. It might turn out that a good deal of progress could be made from low cost on-line self supported study.

The advantage of using a certification programme such as the ITQ is that it provides focus for demonstrating practical competence at different levels from people with learning disabilities right through to under-graduates. There are support systems to demonstrate this competence using free and open source cloud-based management systems that mean that evidence can come largely from day to day work. This then reduces the training overhead so that it can be managed within existing work-flows. Such systems can be supported with on-line feedback so that the evidence submitted can be used as a focus for improvements. These systems have already been tested in both school and adult education environments across Europe.

Support, service and development

Vendor-owned solutions

If you use ODF applications that are exclusively owned or operated by a specific company, it depends on their business setup where and how support is included – and what support is.

Vendors often have their own network of official resellers, integrators, service providers and freelancers they work with. These help to configure software, provide training, and answer phone calls with questions. Development of the core product is the privilege of the vendor.

Note that if a company is not willing to deliver the support you need in the time frame you need it, there may be still be some alternatives you can resort to in conjunction to work with your existing tools.

This can be done for instance by means of add-ons to the core vendors product. For instance, if you need specific ODF functionality in Microsoft Office there is an existing open source add-on that you could use to add support for track changes, font embedding, ODF fallback mechanism, form controls and other standard features from ODF you find lacking in the core product. Development is of course hindered by the lack of availability of the source code of the product, and limited to the application integration allowed by the vendor.

Open source

For an open source project, there are no restrictions who can deliver support, service or training. There are also no fixed minimum rates, and it is possible to have people work for you directly. The source code of the entire application is freely available to study and learn from, and unlike commercial “off the shelf” software you can take it to create something that provides the tightest possible fit for your organisation. You are in full control.

If you have a longer term development or training need, actually employing your own developers or training staff is a realistic option you should consider as well. Many organisations around the world have significantly reduced their overall cost, by moving a fraction of the licensing cost for software paid to acquiring talent that understands .

Not only will hiring the right people enhance your skill set within your own organisation, it will greatly help you make you more independent from vendors at a strategic level.

We do recommend to involve experts with a good standing in the community itself. Not only will this raise the quality of your experience and save you money, but it also rewards those that already have contributed. Whomever you hire in the end, make sure they have adequate technical and/or didactical skills to deliver the service you want.

An organisation can choose to work with individual experts on a freelance basis, with local SME’s such as Collabora, Canonical or with global companies such as IBM or RedHat. Talk to multiple suppliers before you decide.

Larger projects get this type of questions a lot. Apache OpenOffice provides a list of experienced partners. LibreOffice has an finegrained accreditation mechanism, acknowledging Certified Developers and Migration Professional, Professional Trainers and Support Professionals.

If you want to go the open source route, and are uncertain where to start:

  • ask peers for advice and guidance
  • see if there are advanced users that can help out
  • join forces with other organisations in similar situations to bundle funding and expertise
  • invite community experts to help you find your way

Support on the development of the standard

If you have any needs or requirements with regards to the development of ODF itself, there are a few routes you can take:

  • contact members of the technical committee responsible for producing and maintaining ODF: the OASIS ODF TC. There are a number of freelance technical ODF experts active within the ODF TC, that are available to work on editorial support and feature development.
  • Send a mail to the dedicated public mailing list for that purpose.
  • contact your national representative within ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34.

ODF is built on the XML standard. You can therefore also contact an organisation that brings together many high level XML and standards experts from around the world like XML Guild.

Quality assurance, interoperability testing and best practices

While generic operational support on a standard is not really possible, but certainly quality assurance, interoperability testing and bringing together best practices from a non-commercial point of view is of value.

OpenDoc Society is a not-for-profit, member-based organisation committed to continue making ODF the most interoperable, flexible and generally useful document standard in existence. This is why we provide the user and developer community with tools such as Officeshots and, organise the ODF Plugfests and gather programming recipes for developers as well as informational resources such as this website and guide.

If you think OpenDoc Society can help support your government or organisation to better make the transition to ODF, for instance by organising a matchmaking event with technology providers and open source communities in your country, contact us. We can also help you better understand and scope your problems.