Standards seem such a good idea, that we've invented a dozen, or more, for every single niche.
If the rational left hemisphere harbours desires of a standardised everything-works-together world for hardware, communications, applications, databases, processors, operating systems...you-name-it; the creatively competitive right hemisphere is having none of that vanilla-everything stuff.
The downside of tolerating restrained anarchy is the added cost that comes with having staff (or their outsourced equivalents) snowed under with integration projects and ongoing management and maintenance. The upside is that with diversity comes innovation and competitive edge. Analyst Graham Penn from IDC sees the financial impact of lack of standardisation in cost of acquisition, cost of deployment, cost of management, daily operational costs, and opportunity cost' where people waste time on mundane, stupid things, rather than turning their talents to high business-value activity.
So what to do? You could put yourself in the clutches' of a single vendor. Go for the expensive big bang' integration project. Pin your hopes on flavours of XML.
You could create a standards blueprint, and move stealthily towards it like Dimension Data's CIO Scott Petty. This approach has the costs of integration riding on the back of existing (and ongoing) business-value projects.
For Andrew Ogbourne, the IT manager for Scholastic Australia, dealing with a diversity of IT systems is just part of the job. His team has numerous operating systems on the boil, including HP/UX, Wang VS, Windows NT and OS/400. Add in two networks and Oracle, SQLServer and DB2 databases, and you get a picture of diversity.
Except for some outgoing Wang gear, Ogbourne sees data connectivity as not overly challenging, aided as he is by standards like TCP/IP, ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) and JDBC (Java Database Connectivity). However, having to have people around to support this jumble brings a not very hidden drain on his budget.
In some areas the story remains less evolved. E-commerce is where the best of in-house intentions are all too easily tackled to the ground by customers and partners. Corporate Express' CIO Gary Whatley, for instance, has had to handle up to 50 integration projects while dealing with flavours of XML' and customers who want to tie their own ERP backends into those of Corporate Express.
Whatever the hassles, a standardised approach to interoperability has to be more profitable than mutual incomprehension.