I spent some time with a large software company last week. In the course of our conversation, it became clear that while open standards are great for facilitating cooperation between companies, open standards can also serve another purpose entirely: improving cooperation within a single company.
Granted, this is mostly a solution for big companies; small companies struggle less to make diverse product lines work together. Even so, it's interesting to think that some forward-thinking businesses sponsor open standards to help with internal problems, not industry interoperability.
Consider Oracle (not the company in question). After years of acquisitions, the company is basically an industry unto itself, with competing products and standards that don't always work well together. Enter Fusion, a middleware concept Oracle devised to make its products speak to each other.
That's one way to achieve interoperability--and perhaps the only way to achieve it, given the breadth of products within Oracle. But this company with which I met has actively been fostering industry standards in order to achieve internal product interoperability. Compatibility with its industry peers could almost be a second thought.
Self-interest being what it is, I generally think that companies sponsor standards efforts in order to benefit themselves at the expense of competitors, a topic upon which software consultant Stephe Walli often waxes eloquent. After all, if one company can establish its technology as the industry standard, it stands to reap big gains.
But it turns out that some companies are so big, they need standards to rationalize their own internal, competing products too, never mind collaboration (or coopetition) with competitors.
In other words, the next time we see SAP, IBM, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, or even Microsoft promoting a standard, perhaps we should consider that they might simply be trying to work with someone in the cubicle next door.
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