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Why Open Standards?
When you consider the dynamic connections and just-in-time integration resulting from today's networked business relationships, it's easy to appreciate how keeping standards proprietary is clearly the strategy of the last computing generation. As e-business enters the 21st century, open standards will fuel the Internet, further speeding the pace of the new economy. The importance of open standards extends across all industries because they enable markets to grow and evolve faster. By creating a framework in which all players can participate, open standards are integral to the success of the Internet as a business channel.

The Internet's brief history has already shown that the free exchange of information is good business for everyone. It's no coincidence that underlying technologies like TCP/IP, the communication protocol for the Internet, and HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the rules for exchanging files on the Web, have enabled the economy to reach new highs recently. As industry standards, their value lies in providing an established and open foundation for effective use of the Internet for e-business and e-commerce.

If software may be thought of as providing the "electrical functionality" of e-business, let's make some real-life analogies in support of open standards. Picture being unable to purchase a new appliance without first checking to see whether it adhered to your electric company's unique specifications for generating power. Imagine if you couldn't call a friend in a neighboring state because your local phone companies couldn't agree on a standard to allow their telephone networks to communicate. According to International Data Corporation, the number of IP telephony minutes will reach 135 billion by 2004, and revenue for this service will rise from $480 million in 1999 to $19 billion by 2004. This exponential growth wouldn't be possible without standards for telephone communication.

We believe that XML, an open standard from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is a key part of e-business' feverish growth spurt. Companies that have built business models based on open standards such as XML are already seeing their substantial marketplace success enhanced by the ubiquity of these technologies.

How Do Internet Predictions Support the Need for Open Standards?
More people than ever are using and sharing information online - IDC forecasts that the U.S. Internet user population will reach 137 million, and the worldwide Internet population will exceed 274 million this year alone. The recent spate of Web-enabled mobile phones and wireless personal digital assistants (PDAs) is providing a new benchmark of Internet accessibility, particularly among today's increasingly mobile workforce.

Consider the burgeoning business-to-business market, valued at $1.3 trillion by Forrester Research by the year 2003. In the years ahead, as we've seen with online retailers, markets will become more discriminating in the B2B segment. Leading companies will have a strong Internet strategy integrated with other non-Internet channels. These companies will alter the concept of an Internet endeavor as a standalone entity, disconnected from the core business. Leaders have already recognized this and are well on their way to tighter integration of the two.

Therefore, even more so in the 21st century and beyond, the entire success of a business in the online realm will hinge on its ability to exchange information seamlessly, regardless of where it's generated or headed. E-business technologies such as Java and XML can enable these transactions to flow smoothly throughout the enterprise only when they are based on true open standards.

When you consider how the majority of Fortune 500 companies use multiple, disparate operating systems, the implications for internal data integration alone - let alone conducting e-business with outside partners - are staggering without the help of a common, easily accessible base code. Savvy customers recognize and demand the investment protection afforded by open standards to ensure an application's extensibility into current and future infrastructures.

While portions of these technologies have matured sufficiently, we remain vigilant to ensure that vendor-neutral standards organizations serve as the gatekeepers to their further development. With the understanding that interoperability of various processes is secured, small and large companies alike can successfully conduct e-business and compete more effectively in the marketplace.

As further proof, consider that IDC predicted a need for 750,000 Java programmers in 2000. Clearly, nurturing creativity among the development community is important for everyone. Developers need to be able to write to a clear, pervasively distributed platform of APIs and functions. This demand underscores the importance of ensuring that open standards truly remain open for the benefit of all.

How Do We Get There?
IBM is deeply committed to industry standards that best support the multiplatform, multivendor and dynamic environment that the Internet has enabled. Simply put, we believe that e-business is all about "cooperating on standards and competing on implementation," and we act on these beliefs. This can only occur in the context of true, cross-industry commitment to these standards.

To bring ubiquity to computing, the industry requires a foundation of open standards managed by vendor-neutral standards organizations. As organizations like the W3C, ISO, OASIS and ECMA have proved: "If you define it, they will use it." The reliance of these consortiums on cross-industry involvement speeds the time-to-market of technology by drawing on the perspective, expertise and resources that only a group of leading companies can provide. Standards processes managed by a lone vendor will not work to bring the ubiquity we as an industry require. Only vendor-neutral standards bodies can provide the stability developers need to deliver the next generation of e-business solutions.

There is an important issue at stake here: the freedom to develop in an environment that will remain open, available, and consistent. IBM will remain vocal on issues relating to standardization of key technologies for the evolution of e-business. It's simply the right thing to do.

Author Bio
Rod Smith is vice president of Java Software for IBM Corporation. Rod has served in many capacities at IBM, most recently as chief technologist and vice president of Internet technology for the Network Computing Software Division. Rod, a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., holds a BA and an MS in economics from Western Michigan.


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