Opinion: Standards activists are making a mark

There's a new wave of activism in IT circles that is long overdue. The first hint of this newfound sense of confidence among IT executives was manifested in the formation of the Liberty Alliance, which seeks to ensure that standards around identity management remain open.

Initially formed as a response to concerns that Microsoft Corp. would leverage its Passport and HailStorm initiatives to create new business initiatives outside of its core software market, Project Liberty leadership quickly fell to companies such as United Air Lines Inc., General Motors Co., American Airlines Inc., Bank of America Corp., and Travelocity Inc. And although Microsoft has yet to join Project Liberty, the efforts of the IT executives in this alliance have gone a long way towards toning down the rhetoric to a point where this effort actually benefits everybody.

Not long after the Liberty Project came the Web Services Interoperability organization (WS-I), which counts United Air Lines, Ford, Daimler/Chrysler, and General Motors among its members. Although it is true that Microsoft and IBM dominate this organization by controlling the board seats, people are optimistic that WS-I will soon open up to include Sun on the board. And once that happens, don't be surprised if companies with substantial IT budgets don't push to have members on the WS-I board.

The issue these companies are waking up to and acting on is that vendors can no longer be trusted to facilitate the growth of a given market. Once upon a time, standards were developed in order to accelerate the adoption of new technologies. But over the years, standards organizations have become the technology equivalent of smoked-filled back rooms where everybody is trying to find an edge at the expense of everybody else. The end result has been to retard the adoption of new technologies in the interest of maintaining a marginal proprietary edge that makes more profits for them while everybody else deals with the market consequences.

IT organizations and the companies they work for have begun to recognize that standards are not a technology issue best left to their suppliers. Standards are a business issue that affects their ability to compete and deliver services to their customers.

So don't be surprised if we begin to see a more vigilant IT community mandating its requirements across a range of emerging standards for everything from wireless networks to grid computing models. Standards of all stripes have become a real bottom-line issue, and the vendors are incapable of acting in the best interests of the market and customers as whole. This is not to say that vendors should be eliminated from the standards process, but the emergence of a vigilant IT community that referees and curtails childish vendor behavior is required.

Get out and agitate, because if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld and InfoWorld.com. Contact him at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

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