Friday, June 12, 2009

Utter disbelief

I've been involved with standards since the early 1990s, working within the OMG, OASIS, GGF, W3C and others. They all have their rules and regulations, and most of the time they technical committees are populated by the vendors. That's not because these organizations are closed to end-users, but I think many of those end-users believe it's a lot of time and effort to participate. They'd be right.

Over those years I've been involved in a lot of political wrangling. You have to know when to push and when to give in. Priorities are important and today's foe could be tomorrow's ally. Sometimes people can get very emotional about this proposal or that, trying hard to justify why it should be voted for or against. That's good, because passion is important in what we do. But sometimes the arguments can be very fatuous. However, it wasn't until the other day though, that I realized I hadn't heard all of them!

To protect individuals I won't say what meeting it was, but suffice it to say that there was a face-to-face meeting recently that I attended by phone. Because of the time differences it meant I was doing my normal work from early in the morning my time and then in the evening jumping on a call for another 6 hours. For 3 days running! Anyway, during the 2nd day one of the vendors was trying to get their point across to everyone else and failing: pretty much everyone had decided to vote against, but this vendor kept trying hard. I had assumed that because this vendor (name withheld!) has been involved with standards for a while they knew the rules of the game. But apparently not, or at least the people representing them didn't.

So when it became pretty obvious that they were going to lose (this standards group uses the rule that one vendor has one vote, no matter how many employees it has on the working group) the cry went up "But what about the thousands of customers we have who want things our way?" Huh?! WTF?! First of all that's a very subjective statement. How do we know those customers exist and what they really want? If we were to have to take them all into account then we'd have to solicit their responses on all votes. Secondly if we go that route it'll become a "customer war", with vendor A saying "I've got 1000 customers" and vendor B saying "well I've got 1001!" This kind of weighted voting doesn't work! If customers really want a say then they can sign up to any of the standards groups. In fact I'd really encourage them to do that, because it makes a lot of difference: the best standards all have customer input!

After I heard this and stopped choking, I realized that it was really a case of desperation on the part of this vendor. Hopefully they'll read the rules before they turn up next time.


Len D. said...

I had to laugh when I read this post as I had a semi-similar voting experience a few years ago. The company for which I worked was trying to run project teams with a democratic process; each group working on a project (Dev, QE, Doc, etc.) had a vote on key decisions.

Then, during a tense meeting one day, the project manager announced that his vote "counted more" than everyone else's. ;-)

Mark Little said...

I believe in one-man, one vote, but only when I am that man ;-)

Anil Saldhana said...

It is tough to attend a F2F over phone. Wow! you did the 3 days - 6 hour marathons.

I kind of sensed the standards body. But not sure who the vendor in question is or the committee.

All part and parcel of the democratic process of open standards. They compete, fight and then bridge into a metasystem. Finally World Peace!