“When is the last time you heard a vendor proudly say that their product or service was closed and proprietary? However, it also seems that every time a new IT architecture sweeps through the market [...], the lessons of the critical value of standards needs to be relearned.”
Matthew Gardiner, writing about security standards for cloud applications, gives a shrewd account of the eternal tension between the idea of standards and the actual implementation of standards. “Why is it,” he says, “that everyone loves standards in concept, including those for security, but often standards definition and deployment is less than speedy? Why doesn’t everyone involved just pull together and solve this obvious problem now, instead of waiting until we are all suffering from lack of standards?”
One answer he gives is a lack of vision on the part of the customer. It's a controversial remark, but made with justice. Gardiner is referring to a lack of long-term thinking on the part of customers, who use proprietary interfaces because that's what's available from vendors. The need to take decisions for today rather than tomorrow has the unfortunate consequence of making tomorrow worse than it needs to be.
And there's a vicious circle here. If customers buy proprietary because that's what's available, then vendors have no incentive to shift to standards. In fact they have every incentive to focus on protecting their proprietary intellectual property and targeting market share over long-term customer value.
Happily, I see standards organizations not as third parties in this dilemma, but as agencies of the industry. Good standards bodies represent the needs and goals of the customers. They work to reconcile and balance the requirements of all stakeholders in the industry. They can therefore be a more considered, aggregated voice for the customer community.
But I must stress that this benefit extends to vendors too. As players in the development and implementation of standards, vendors get to contribute to the forward engineering of the industry's capabilities. Instead of competing for market share based on proprietary offerings, they can work to continually raise the baseline of performance across the industry – and then compete on real value-adds in a much larger market.