Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

Interoperability vs Homogeneity

The leaked updated document of the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) is generating a lot of noise and for good reason. It is taking back what could be considered one of the most advanced features of the previous document: its insistence on the use of open standards.

In particular, the new document contains the following puzzling piece instead:

interoperability can also be obtained without openness, for example via homogeneity of the ICT systems, which implies that all partners use, or agree to use, the same solution to implement a European Public Service.

I don’t know about you but, to me this statement simply makes no sense. And I wonder to whom it could truly make sense.

Indeed, interoperability is defined in wikipedia as “a property referring to the ability of diverse systems and organizations to work together”.  That seems about right to me.

So, how could “homogeneity” possibly qualify has a way of obtaining “interoperability”? Aren’t “homogeneity” and “diverse” opposing each other?

Saying that “interoperability can be obtained […] via homogeneity” is equivalent to saying that diverse systems and organizations can work together via homogeneity. Or in other words that diversity can be dealt with via homogeneity. This doesn’t make sense, does it?

The only way to make sense of this is obviously to read it as saying that one can actually avoid the need for interoperability by adopting an homogeneous system or solution. That is true actually. And that’s something many organizations have tried before. But everybody has learned by now that this is a losing proposition. It just doesn’t work.

It may work on a short term basis, but in the long term in never does. Because the world is fundamentally heterogeneous. And resistance in this domain is futile. One way or another the heterogeneous aspect of nature will eventually kick in. Some of the most common sources of heterogeneity in IT simply comes from mergers and acquisitions, which happen all the time.

Furthermore, isn’t the whole point of the European Interoperability Framework about enabling heterogeneity? Isn’t it all about providing choice? So, why would the EU endorse the notion of having everybody select one specific solution or system? Isn’t that in total contradiction with its very goal?

Why would the EU promote the use of one specific system or solution that would bind governments and their constituents to a specific vendor rather than allowing diversity and choice? I seriously wonder.

And one has to wonder who has to gain from such an idea… For sure anyone who has a monopoly or quasi-monopoly would love that. Do you know anyone?

I seriously hope the EU realizes how misguided this move was and takes it back.

Especially because this flies in the face of the current trend in favor of open standards and open source that has recently made Europe so interesting in the field of standards. This is what has led several other countries such as Japan to reach out to Europe to discuss standards related policy issues. It’d be a shame to kill that momentum.


November 10, 2009 Posted by | open, standards | 6 Comments