Friday, January 05, 2007

Liberty, Enterprises and Membership

James continues to raise questions about participation in the Liberty Alliance by enterprise customers.

I'm not sure what he's using to measure enterprise participation, but he claims:

Of the thirteen members of the management board, only two don't sell technology.

I don't know what James uses to differentiate one company from another, but "sell technology" isn't the right one. The right one is whether or not the company is coming to the table as a vendor (or potential vendor) or are they coming to the table as a user (or potential user).

Clearly some of the members of the management board and some of the sponsor members are vendors. However, unlike most other standards bodies, Liberty does have participation of companies that are users of the protocol (and hence potential customers of the aforementioned vendors). These "user companies" include:

  • AOL (management board)
  • France Telecom (management board)
  • Fidelity Investments (management board)
  • General Motors (management board)
  • NTT (management board)
  • United Airlines (former management board)
  • American Express (former management board, now sponsor)
  • Bank of America (sponsor)
  • British Telecom (sponsor)
  • Bipac (sponsor)
  • T-Com (sponsor)
  • Telephonica (sponsor)
  • Vodafone (sponsor)

Not to mention the many government organizations which clearly are not vendors.

This is a vastly larger level of participation by non-vendors than you find in most standards bodies. Liberty is proud of that fact and continues to reach out to enterprise customers to encourage their participation.

And yes, all of these companies and governments use technology. Some even sell products that are in a technological world. However, their participation in Liberty is not about those products, but about ensuring that the protocols developed within Liberty meet the needs of their enterprise development.

James also seems to have a problem with my statement that participation gets you a voice and vote in the development of the use cases, requirements and protocols:

Conor, are you saying that you would be wildly successful in convincing hundreds of CIOs in Fortune enterprises to spend money so that they will not only have a say in the definition of requirements but also get the opportunity to vote? Whether you agree with this statement, enterprises already have a say and a vote, it is called their wallet. If several large enterprises want to not only have standards but see them implemented in enterprise products then they can participate in ways that do not require a level of time commitment that is higher than the return it brings by using approaches such as I outlined in ECM and Security Curious to know if you think this approach would be more expedient, cheaper, or successful if done under the Liberty banner?

FYI. I am not sure that standards bodies need to equal closed source. Factually speaking, at work, I have recently contributed to an ISO specification in which neither myself nor my employer were a member of. Likewise, I have also been invited to contribute insight into BPM and Security at an upcoming Object Management Group meeting that will happen over the summer. So, if ISO and the OMG have figured out how to allow folks to contribute without being closed source then why can't Liberty Alliance. Voting is not an attractive value proposition, seeing vendors actually implement is.

Liberty too has had people invited people whom we felt could make real contributions to participate (even when they weren't a member). We also release public drafts of our specifications asking for feedback and input from the general public. We run public interop events so that different implementations can exercise the new specifications. We run a conformance certification process to help ensure that different products will work together. All of these are opportunities for non-members (as well as members) to actively participate in the work we are doing. You, yes you James, can actually read the specs and provide feedback and input to help evolve the specs to meet your needs (if they don't already do so).

That said, Liberty needs to fund the operation of the alliance. It costs real dollars to operate a standards organization and the funding model that Liberty has chosen is membership fees. And those membership fees have to mean something in order to encourage people to pay them. Clearly a substantial number of enterprise organizations (as well as vendors) have chosen to pay those fees and actively participate in the evolution of our specifications.

All of that said, I think there are many reasons why a large number of companies (both vendor and enterprise alike) choose to not participate in a standards body:

  • It's hard work. Writing a standard is not simple and working with people from many different companies with different interests makes it even harder.
  • They have limited resources -- $$ and/or people.
  • There may be a lack of interest -- "Let the vendors figure it out".
  • They believe that it's easier to just let others do the work and then adopt it when it's all done. Perhaps they feel that if so-and-so is participating, that's enough for them.

I'm sure that there are many more such reasons that I just haven't thought of.

All-in-all, Liberty does have enterprise participation. Liberty also has vendor participation (and the enterprises want them there so that this stuff gets into real products that the enterprises can purchase). I think the mix is one of the strongest things that Liberty has in its favor.

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James McGovern said...

Conor, your post indicated usage patterns that weren't observable by outsiders. For example, you mentioned that your employer is a "user". Maybe this begs for members of Liberty to share publicly their internal business case for why they joined? I know that if others understood the value proposition from this perspective then membership would increase.

Conor P. Cahill said...

Yeah, I'm sure that it would be nice to be able to see other companies internal business plans and decision processes. However, it seems that most companies treat that kind of stuff as trade secrets.

There is a bunch of case studies about Liberty deployments at