“Open standards for information technology” seem to be a new term that everyone is talking about recently. But, as a matter of fact, standards have been here for a long time. The socket and the plug that you use for charging your electronic devices, USB cables that fit perfectly into the given slots, or the WiFi signals that your devices connect to - all of these adhere to open standards.
As opposed to this, there are proprietary standards. As the name suggests, proprietary standards are the ones that are “closed” - those which are compatible only with a few specific configurations. The addition of features within the system itself is a cakewalk. But, when it comes to the integration of technologies belonging to a different system, it is either a tedious task or not possible at all.
This turned the attention of business owners to open standard-based technology architecture. The use of open standards fosters innovations resulting in disruptive technologies engulfing the market. At the end, the end-user wins by not getting locked into one large company’s way of conducting business.
In general, open-source refers to any software program that has an editable source code, available for users and developers to modify it as per their requirements. Open-source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and can be used by anyone freely. On the other hand, open standard software is defined as software that follows the guidelines laid down to keep technologies “open”. These guidelines allow free sharing of all data types with perfect fidelity. Open standards help avoid vendor lock-in and thereby, enhance interoperability.
Concept-wise, open-source and open standards groups are alike in more ways than they are different. The goal of both groups is to create an immense amount of shared value that can be used by anyone freely. Both open source and open standards advocates have similar ideas about governing an open project, but their approaches to it are different.
Application development can gain a lot more by collaborating both open source and open standard software. In the technical sphere, open-source projects based on open standards stand better chances to receive access and support on governance matters and other industry acceptable documentation. It can open funding opportunities that can impact the enterprise’s goals.
Now, let’s look at some business benefits of adopting open standards.
In the present scenario, for enterprise applications to offer a complete service, it needs to have several third-party integrations. Let’s consider a taxi booking application that people access from their smartphones. The app needs to track the phone’s GPS to detect its location and then give this information to the driver so that it can reach the user at the exact location. This functionality of navigation is added to the application by integrating a mapping service - say, Google maps. For successful integration of separate applications, the software and the data must be made to work together without any miscommunication. This is possible only with open standards which enable different software systems to share data easily with speed and reliability.
So, now when one application needs to work with diverse systems having services distributed across multiple domains, there is a need to have a connecting link for the swift transfer of data. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) make this connecting link possible. Here is where interoperability steps in. If your business application adheres to open standards, there are standard-based APIs that one can use to connect with any system. But, if your application follows proprietary standards, the choices are limited, and one needs to develop custom APIs for the same. This leads to vendor lock-in. You are stuck with using a system owned by a specific vendor. Due to this, the shortcomings of those systems affect the efficiency of your application as well. Instead, building an application with open standards, you are not tied down by any vendor or its shortcomings.
A business application generally needs to be so designed that it is compatible across various systems and varied screens. If the application follows closed standards, this is only possible when each compatibility is individually addressed. One may need to design extensive proprietary interfaces for enabling compatibility with each system thus, limiting interoperability. On the other hand, open standards will pave the way for a fully interoperable business application that has a simple plug-and-play set up for all systems across all devices. Thus, you save a lot of man-hours spent on developing custom interfaces or offering extensive integration services to customers.
It is extremely difficult to convert the data if an application, which is becoming obsolete, supports proprietary files. With open standards, however, file types and data are protected against applications becoming obsolete. If a file type follows open standards, the new application can easily use the data or convert it.
It is easier to port one application across multiple platforms if the implementation follows standardized rules and guidelines. Further, it requires less training to develop the application on different platforms as well. In contrast, proprietary applications typically require more training and knowledge as information is not publicly available about them.
By saving man-hours, you reduce the time to market. Again, when your application is up and ready in a short time span and integration service needs are non-existent, you also save a lot on development costs. With low development costs and no vendor lock-in, the total cost of ownership of the application is low as well.
In the present-day world, there are new technologies emerging at a very fast pace. Taking this into consideration, it would be preferable to have an application that can readily catch up with all the advancements in technology. Looking from a business point of view, open standards are a necessity while open source is a choice. By choosing software frameworks that are open standards-compliant, the resulting business applications will adhere to the accepted levels of security and modes of data interchange and exchange. It also improves the accessibility and quality of your business application. Whereas, you may choose an open-source or proprietary software for building your applications purely based on your needs and preferences.