Too many cooks spoil the standard: BEA

ICT standards are more effectively promulgated through a small “focused” group of a few partners than being immediately made the province of an industry-wide consultation exercise or handed immediately to a formal standards body.

So says Benjamin Renaud, San Francisco-based deputy technical chief at BEA Systems. BEA has been involved in a number of standards formation exercises of this kind, with, for example, Java development platforms and portlets.

“If a number of companies start from scratch in that focused way, develop a viable draft and then present it to a standards committee, then you make more progress than if you have too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Standards are a key element of the new phase of evolution of the ICT industry, says Renaud. There is a growing and valuable talent pool with knowledge of the standards to avoid lock-in, and user organisations are beginning to request such people as well as those with knowledge in specific products.

Major customer realisation of the value of cross-platform standards began with the web and it was no coincidence that the popularity of Java began to mushroom soon after that, he says. The user is the key to the validation of standards, Renaud adds. If users don’t take to a particular standard, it won’t go anywhere. Is there not scope for individual companies to “bend” standards to the advantage of their own products, a move which could be easier in a small standards group than a large one? Microsoft tried that with Java, says Renaud, “and it didn’t work; it had to go away in its own direction, with .Net”.

Even with a major move to industry-standard software, the fact remains that any IT user company is evolving from legacy applications or even forced for the time being into a proprietary path for a particular application. This dictates a need for integration, long BEA’s staple business. Integration tools, such as XML and web services, are themselves becoming standardised, Renaud notes. And integration itself needs to be integrated, with development.

“Integration is part of development; it’s the same activity,” he says. Both exercises would benefit from involving the same people. At present, development and integration teams are usually distinct. The most prominent tactic for bringing development and integration together has been christened, by Gartner, the “application platform suite” (APS).

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