Timing, as they say, is everything. Trying to standardise a new technical innovation for example when it’s still in the early growth stage is a classic example of bad timing.
Take cloud computing, still rudely disrupting the once jealously guarded domain of “enterprise IT”. It’s experiencing an inevitable counter-reaction not only from the traditional government IT supply chain, but, more surprisingly, the European Commission too. The EC appears anxious to “standardise” this “new” phenomenon, thus unwittingly helping old IT suppliers (and, entirely coincidentally, their expensive Brussels lobbyists) preserve their dominance by artificially imposing premature constraints.
This is an increasingly high stakes game for the old guard, desperate to cling on to the old era of “big IT” as they thrash around like desperate fish abandoned on the beach. The $600m battle between Amazon and IBM after the CIA cloud contract was awarded to Amazon is only one more visible part of this struggle. Old IT appears ready to use any means possible to delay the inevitable, buying time whilst they spraypaint the world “cloud” in front of their existing archaic offerings.
Such early imposition of standardisation risks constraining both innovation and new market entrants — something that plays directly into the hands of the old “big IT” corporates. The EC should be using cloud as a strategic weapon to drive major improvements in the operation of the technology supply chain in the European Union, and to reward home-grown European innovation.
Instead, it seems condemned to repeat the mistakes of the OSI era when a bunch of (not so) "wise men" sat around a table and came up with GOSIP, the Government OSI Profile — the “alternative to internet standards”. Hmm, that went well didn’t it? GOSIP remains a rude reminder of how destructive and expensive a poor decision at the wrong moment can be, particularly when imposed by government fiat — however well intended that intervention might be.
Agreeing open standards makes sense only at the right moment in the life cycle. But cloud computing has yet to reach that stage of maturity. Imposing premature standards is reminiscent of the early days of the car industry, when its development was impeded by the legal requirement to have a man with a red flag walk in front of the vehicle.
Even old Cnut knew that despite being king he could no better stop the incoming tide than any other mortal. Yet it’s a lesson many have still to learn. The EC seems surprisingly willing to intervene in the cloud computing marketplace at this stage in its maturity life-cycle. It would be a sad irony indeed if the EC’s attempts to ensure effective open competition and new market entrants in the era of cloud computing were to have the very opposite effect — artificially preserving existing IT incumbents.
If the EC wants a better, more competitive model, it could do little better than to look to the UK, and its well-timed approach to the smart use of cloud services, privacy and the appropriate use of open standards.