Why the Digital Enterprise Needs Modular Open Standards

It would be hard to find many people in the tech world who don’t appreciate the power of a standard. We live among various systems, following different design decisions, used in different ways, often even within an organization, let alone from one organization to another. Standards, in this context, are what allow technology to do almost everything we expect it to do, whether it’s accurately conveying a message from one machine to another or being understandable for a newly hired engineer.

About the Author

Judy Cerenzia is Vice President of Forum Operations at The open group.

Beyond their immediate pragmatic functions, standards are also great drivers of innovation. They mean that a company can create and launch a new product, knowing that customers will be able to integrate it with what they already have. At the same time, they can inspire new ideas: when an approach is clearly established and explained in a standard, it becomes easier to imagine what could be achieved through this approach.

When standards stumble

In short, everyone loves standards – until they no longer meet our needs.

The Open Group has been in the business of setting industry standards for over twenty-five years. Since 1995, when the Internet was just beginning to be used for business purposes, we have experienced the same changes as all other organizations in this quarter century. Our working groups have met in person, on group calls and via videoconference. Our members have collaborated through everything from whiteboards to emails to shared online documents.

Along the way, we’ve relied on many standards ourselves – some open, like email, and some less so. The challenge for a standard like email is that it can be difficult to keep it in sync with the needs of the people using it. We still need it, of course, to carry billions of messages a day, but for example, the original email forwarding standard doesn’t allow attachments. So, the industry has created another standard that builds on the original to allow attachments to be sent.

The result is that over time, standards accumulate to fulfill the many new functions we need. Since the early days of the Internet, it has been an accelerated process, with new tools, frameworks, platforms and services emerging at an ever-increasing rate as essential components of digital business.

What is true for communication protocols is also true for all sorts of standards. The Open Group, in particular, was created to advance a common standard for implementing UNIX®, and since then has also created the most widely used enterprise architecture methodology and framework in the world. world, as well as open standards enabling everything from interoperable healthcare systems to recording and processing environmental footprint data.

This work is essential to many parts of the modern digital business – and therefore to many parts of our daily lives. As these companies merge their business and technical skills into agile product-centric delivery teams, accelerating the progress they can make and the value they can deliver, they can no longer rely on a few standards to solve their problems. . The ability to manage the pace of change in ever-emerging tools and frameworks is an essential skill to stay competitive. Given this competitive imperative, how can organizations best adopt and manage standards?

A modular future for standards

We know, however, that this different approach cannot imply a deviation from the principle of having standards and the value they bring. It’s understood that a significant proportion of digital transformation projects end in failure, and the root cause of this often lies in the fact that while enabling small teams to act faster in a digital native way , organizations fail to change their business. model, organization, management and culture to ensure these empowered teams can work together.

Developing standards can help organizations make these business changes by changing the way they operate. The inspiration for doing this comes, quite naturally, from the agile methodology itself. When the methodology works well, many agile teams within an organization will produce modular components that add up to something far greater than the sum of its parts. Businesses today should be moving towards adopting standards that deliver the same quality: modular, structured, composable pieces that, when combined, create more value, not conflict. The process used to produce these standards should be able to evolve as quickly as the underlying business and technology drivers. The process should also be designed to learn quickly from market reactions. If standards can’t learn and evolve quickly, standards will quickly become irrelevant to product teams looking for solutions to their problems.

A modular future for standards will be one where components can be continually revised and updated faster, keeping pace with the world around them.

While careful design and consensus are always part of standards development, standardization processes need to break the habit of producing large, monolithic standards that evolve slowly. To borrow again from the agile world, the development of standards must “allow us to work in small batches, ideally in unit flow, to have rapid and continuous feedback on our work”. In other words, large, slowly evolving standards are a form of technical debt for the standards industry.

Beyond the development process, we must consider the consumer of standards. A modular future for standards will be one where standards-based solutions are easy to discover and navigate, regardless of which standard they belong to.

Ultimately, standards succeed when they allow people to quickly discover and adopt solutions to their business problems. In today’s rapidly changing environment, businesses will need standards that work the way they work.

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