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Does the world need another e-biz consortium? Circling their wagons this time are IBM, HP, Microsoft and Intel, CA and SAP, and a clutch of backoffice partners, under the name of the Business Internet Consortium. Only this time the catch is that it's not a standards body at all. It's a "think tank" (their words) for coming up with best practices for e-implementing e-commerce. Got that?

We weren't altogether clearer ourselves after a few minutes with Microsoft's Pete Conway, Windows .Net marketing director, CA's Larry Acord and HP's Eric Buatois, general manager for strategy in its software division yesterday.

What emerges is a new industry talking shop which, if successful, may produce some guidelines in the spirit of the ISO 9000 series of management best practice and guidelines. Only without the auditing. And without the participation as yet it seems, of Sun Microsystems.

The mission Eric tells us, is to "deliver recommendations to IT managers and line of business managers on the implementation of systems". It's not a standards body, Acord insists, although it may deliver input into standards bodies such as the IETF and the W3C. Input along the lines of "architectural design and implementation", according to the accompanying blurb, and task force recommendations for issues such as network latencies.

Hmm.

Sounds to us like stuff that standards bodies are already trying to agree on, building on years of R&D work. This takes us to the essential nut that any erstwhile, well-intentioned implementation council will have to crack: to whit, how to lay down the problems in sufficient detail to avoid pre-empting the technical solutions.

As Intel discovered, with its recent P2P debacle, you can't approach the industry's best brains with a problem and insist: go fix it. Chipzilla recently tried to convene a P2P standards body under its own auspices, and was met with a slow-hand clap from stalwart engineers, who manifestly resented being steered into that corral.

What else did we learn? Ford have signed up as one of the user review representatives. But the users can only suggest input into the consortium, and not veto its output, so that's purely an advisory role.

We wondered if the focus on corporates giants wasn't going to leave smaller businesses - already at the sharp end of the great B2B revolution which steers buying power into the hands of the big buyers - feeling cold? Not at all, said Acord: BIC was actively trying to get the SMEs represented in the form of trade organizations such as the Automative Industry Action Group. Any readers heard of them?

Oh, and what about Sun? They're making up their minds we were told.

Whether the BIC turns out to be an opportunity for IT bosses to spend a long weekend discussing uh, workgroup outputs (and that in itself is a pretty big business), or something more usefull we'll have to wait and see. ®

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