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Dumb customers and dumber software standards

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BEAWorld 2006 A senior Citigroup techie today called on customers to make their voices heard in the debates over software standards - or else.

Skip Snow, enterprise architect at the financial services giant, warned that unless more customers get actively involved "we don't stand a chance against the vendors".

"For the standards process to really work... the customers need to get involved otherwise vendors will continue to give us the lowest common denominator for standards," he told an open source and standards panel at BEAWorld in San Francisco.

According to Snow, an active member of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) organization, Citigroup has exercised influence on standards. But in the banking world, more interoperability between different platforms is needed. "To innovate in banking, we need interoperability. To get interoperability we need standards [which will help to reduce IT costs]," he said.

Customers should not be deterred from participating in standards groups for fear of giving away business plans or valuable competitive information, Snow added. And we second that e-notion.

"We have stuff we do in the financial services business - I don't speak about that stuff at places like this or in standards organizations because there's a potential loss of competitive advantage. On the other hand, we have a lot of other stuff that isn't core to our business that we'd be better served to commodify [sic]," he said.

Individuals representing companies at standards groups should work with their business managers to identify what is core to the business, Snow said.

His call to man the committees was endorsed by Dave Orchard, a BEA standards architect. "We really do like to see a lot of customers at the table," he said, adding that customers bring a "real world" aspect to the work of industry standards groups.

Typically, standards groups attract a large amount of vendor politicking involvement from the big guns such Accenture, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM along with smaller ISVs and consultants with a specialized technology or geographical focus.

Where customers participate, it's common for big corporations such as Citigroup, Ford, Fidelity and Nationwide Insurance to step up to the plate because they have the bodies to spare. Otherwise, customers' interests will be represented by special groups.

Snow is pro-tem chair of the WS-I requirements gathering work group, a member of the WS-I's WS-Basic Profile group and the W3C's WS-Policy working group. He's also a member of the financial services and technology consortium. ®

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