Can standards really meet the business requirements of large organisations?

The other day, I read about a Danish trend to question standard systems, where it was pointed out that the current range of standards systems do not have the ability to resolve the needs of major, public IT projects. The article came in the wake of a similar talking-to from IKEA, that also stated that standard solutions did not meet their business requirements.

How standard is standard?

We can probably discuss for a long time whether niche-oriented specialist systems or standardised ‘best of breed’ ecosystems are the future. However, I cannot help thinking: have those who sneer at standard solutions incorporated a ‘digital first’ approach in their business model? Or are they rather focusing on coming up with digital solutions that emulate traditional, analogue processes?

When IKEA’s CIO is quoted saying: “The question is whether standard platforms are an outdated concept … Maybe we should be moving in the direction of specificity to ensure a better integration,” or when the Director of the Danish Agency for Digitisation says: “You end up making such huge changes to standard financial systems that they are practically specialist systems”, I start to ponder whether the term ‘standard’ in reality has been misused on both sides of the vendor/client relationship.

“We can probably discuss for a long time whether niche-oriented specialist systems or standardised ‘best of breed’ ecosystems are the future.”

The history of different standards

My perception of what standard is may be different to that often encountered in the world of ERP and process systems. The reason might be that my background is mostly in hardware, where you will find a somewhat different approach to standards and the associations that establish standards. This is probably because IT hardware development is more closely related to the development and circumstances that originally saw the arms industry ‘invent’ standards.

It’s one thing to have thousands of standardised rifles to shoot the enemy with, where each part in the individual rifle is adapted to the other parts in the finished weapon. It’s quite another thing to establish clear-cut specifications for the individual parts, their dimensions and mechanical interfaces, which must then be respected in all rifles that are produced.

And yes, yes – of course the requirements for individual sub-components are somewhat higher, but the use, maintenance, upgrades and production will be much more effective as a function of time and volume.

Does it have to be either or?

One of the things that may have been somewhat neglected in software is the establishment of open interfaces. Fortunately, the drum is now being beaten for the use of open APIs. There is even legislation to this effect, and I believe this could be the beginning of better standardisation and modular function extensions for business and process systems.

The customised solutions, that are tricky to upgrade and integrate, apparently carry more allure to those who have expansive, complex needs, but they will continue to suffer due to difficulties upgrading and maintaining their systems as long as they retain their principles of “seamless”-integration.

In theory, we could divide the complex systems into independent applications, and then just ditch integration and go straight for machine learning and robot-based interaction between the various parts. There are already several major organisations that have begun doing this – with reasonable success. As long as AI cannot do it all for us, I remain inclined towards the concept of standardisation.

“I start to ponder whether the term ‘Standard’ in reality has been misused on both sides of the vendor/client relationship.”

How Pagero battle for standards

At Pagero, we work very actively to develop and influence comprehensive standards, that will allow reliable interchange to happen through strict governance and adherence. Only when every item in an invoice or order is in the its proper designated place and in the proper required format, will it become repeatedly reliable. This is also how every single entity in the transaction chain will know exactly what to expect and how to pass it on.

The higher goal for us in this is a connected world of business, where human intellect and creativity can be applied to development instead of process labour.

Those were my two standard cents… Why not get in touch for further discussions about Pagero Denmark’s battle for standards in the real world?