International conference about open standards

It was a cold Friday in January, I was invited to a conference at Christianborg (the danish goverment). The topic was Open Standards. Among the attendees was members of goverment parties, municipality representatives, Harvard, Oracle, IBM, SUN and Novell. The only one missing was Microsoft, witch was a loss from my point of view as a Microsoft specialist.

The first person on the stand was Jeff Kaplan from Harvard, founder and director of the Open ePolicy Group He started with this story from the Tsumani december 2004.

“A thirty-foot-high wall of water – a tsunami – slams into the famed resort islands off Thailand’s southern coast. In one tragic moment, thousands of lives are lost, and thousands more are missing. In the race to identify victims and assist survivors, Thailand’s government hits its own wall. Responding agencies and non-governmental groups are unable to share information vital to the rescue effort. Each uses different data and document formats. Relief is slowed; coordination is complicated. The need for common, open standards for disaster management was never more stark or compelling. The Royal Government of Thailand responded by creating a common website for registering missing persons and making open file formats in particular an immediate national priority.”

This is of cource a very big disaster, but the same could happen anywhere in a smaller range, if different authorities need to communicate. This could be the fire department, police, transport companies, hospitals etc. that needed to collaborate. Would they be able to share data within time limits? It’s a very good example of the need of this discussion, and also the reason why a lot of people nationally (Denmark) and internationally are working for some common standards. Some of Jeff Kaplans recommendations was to demand the following:

- Collaboration

- Mandatory interoperability

- Technology and brand neutral

- Open data formats.

And he continued with, Open means access, transparency, collaborative. It is easy to say “we are open” and there is a lot of standards, this doesn’t make them open. Some standards are cost-intensive, does that appeal with the general idea of being “open”? If you want to spread a standard and make sure that it is used by as many as possible, the price will affect this criteria.

Then Kim Østrup from IBM was on the stand. He started talking while he twisted a screw and a bolt together. This metaphor was to show the similarity with open standards. It worked for me, I was already imagining my own frustration if I had to try 10 different screwdrivers before my new chair was assembled, not to mention how difficult it would be to build a house. A bunch of different craftsmen working with different tools and screws. Any way I bought it, and listened very carefully. He recommended the Danish software standards booklet published by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation,

His opinion was that the use of standards was a political decision. Some of the concrete choices he mentioned should be File formats ODF (Open document format) and W3C standards.

Oracle said: We compete on our methods not our standards.

Then there was a discussion panel with the suppliers, mentioned above. They got some of these questions:

Q: The largest obstacles for implementing standards?

A: KMD (a Danish IT company witch is a large supplier to the public sector)

A: The parties and the government must do more.

Q: Hvad should the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, do for Open Standards?

A: Educate, execute and define policies.

Other comments:

- We will need to invest in the spreading of Open Standards, until then we decrease the opportunity of innovation.

- We make policies for security, development etc. but we don’t se companies defining Open Standard policies – yet.

- The increased dialog and need of Open Standard is the first sign of a paradigm change on the area.

- The price that we are paying for being a part of a monopole (i.e. Microsoft) forces us to look at generic methods.

- Compete on implementing standards, not how many.

- Especially open tendering will have the advantage of Open Standard.

- OIO has a top 20 list with standards

- Include Open Standards in your companies architectural principals.

Sun Microsystems, Susy Struble:

- Business Innovation is accelerated by the Global Internet.

- Look at the issue as a chocolate chip cookie recipe. The Interface (API, protocols, schemas etc.) is the recipe. Implementation is the cookie.

- There are many possible implementations that support the same interface.

- If you control the Interface you won’t need the implementation. I.e. if you control the Interface you’ve got the real power.

The comments referred to above, was just some of the very interesting point of views that were mentioned this day. One thing I unfortunately experienced was that none of the vendors took responsibility of starting implementing standards for real in their organizations. And with Microsofts influence on the market, collaboration is a necessity. Under these circumstances there probably will be a need for a governmental decision. Until then dear vendors (and Microsoft) please collaborate with your customers, so they will start demanding standardization.

I will end this blog with a sentence from the day.

He who does not move, does not feel his chains…..