17 July 2007

Gartner's Trough of Disillusionment

There is a scandal brewing over open standards in Europe:

On June 29 2007, the European Commission agency IDABC published document written on contract by Gartner initiating the revision of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) and the Architecture Guidelines (AG) .

The first version of this very important document has been published in 2004 and introduced a strong support and request for open standards and xml for the exchange of data between administrations within Europe, as well as with the citizens. This has been relayed and used in many countries to support open standards as well.

This is now threatened in this new report EIF v2.0 by Gartner

This second version, not yet endorsed by the European Commission, nor by the member states, but that could well enter soon such an endorsement process, wants to update the previous version of the European Interoperability Framework but, contrary to the first version, it threatens explictely the good process of more open standards that had been a long time push of IDABC.

The core of the problem is the following passage from Gartner's report:

Gartner acknowledges the importance of open standards. IT vendors and system integrators should also recognize that open standards are the way to go. The era where proprietary standards lead to a sure base of loyal customers is fading away. IT is becoming just like any other industry where true added value and competitive pricing determine the winners.

Yet, Gartner recommends not to focus on the use of open standards per se. Whether open or not, standards are to further the deployment of public services. EIF v2.0 should facilitate the most profitable business model(s) of cost versus public value, under proper recognition of intellectual property rights, if any. The support for multiple standards allows a migration towards open standards when appropriate in the long run.

The use of 'open source' software may further the deployment of public services. However again, whether open source or not, it is the most viable software that should be allowed to survive in the infrastructure. So again, EIF v2.0 should facilitate multiple options to co-exist, and to compete.

This is completely daft. Saying

Gartner recommends not to focus on the use of open standards per se. Whether open or not, standards are to further the deployment of public services. EIF v2.0 should facilitate the most profitable business model(s) of cost versus public value

is like saying

Gartner recommends not to focus on the use of moral standards per se. Whether moral or not, standards are to further the deployment of public services. EIF v2.0 should facilitate the most profitable business model(s) of cost versus public value

In other words, it fails to take into account that focussing narrowly on "the most profitable business model(s) of cost versus public value" is short-sighted, because by definition, "not to focus on the use of open standards per se" means allowing closed standards. And so the long-term costs are going to be greater because of vendor lock-in. In fact, Gartner itself says this:

To facilitate evolution over time and to support the migration from one standard to another and to avoid vendor lock-in it is therefore paramount to design for support of multiple standards.

But it confuses multiple standards of any kind with multiple open standards. There are no easy migrations between different closed standards, or closed standards and open ones. "To facilitate evolution over time", *all* the standards must be open.

Around this deeply flawed core thesis, the rest of the report reads like a puff for Gartner's methodology - including its tiresomely pretentious Hype Cycle (talk about hype). Pretentious and useless: at the "Peak of Inflated Expectations" it places - wait for it - IPv6. I hate to break it to Gartner, but IPv6 passed through that stage about eight years ago.

Give that the IDABC, which commissioned this study (who knows why) has hitherto been pretty sensible on open standards, we can only hope they consign this whole report to the bin where it belongs. To help it on its way, do sign the petition and send your (polite) comments to the IDABC before September as they have specifically requested:

Everyone who sees interoperability as an effective means to come to better pan-European eGovernment services is invited to read the document and reflect on its content.

IDABC is interested in your reactions.

A summary of reactions (that reach us before September 15, 2007) will be published on the IDABC web-site (http://ec.europa.eu/idabc) and will constitute another input into the revision process.

Really, an offer we can't - daren't - refuse.

Update: As I signed the petition I noticed that it insists on a full physical address - country isn't enough. This seems foolish to me, and is likely to lead to people not signing. Unless they were to enter random information in the unnecessary fields....

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So you support the European institutions featherbedding large corporate consultancies that have cost European taxpayers more than €20M for their supposed "open standard solutions" for the European Commission's administration, rather than buying fully-functional off-the-shelf software at a fraction of the price?

glyn moody said...

I'm afraid I don't quite know what the $20 million is that you're referring to, and I certainly don't support "featherbedding", since I'm no friend of large, inefficient corporate consultancies.

But in general, I'd say that being locked into proprietary solutions can easily cost ten or a hundred times that figure: provided the alternatives are truly open - and not "supposedly" - then yes, they're preferable, because any "large corporate consultancies" can be given the boot when they fail to deliver. That's not the case when using off-the-shelf software if it uses its own standards.