Daily Archives: October 5, 2015

Technological Damnation 91: Proprietary Madness Continued

Can I play with madness?
The prophet stared at his crystal ball
Can I play with madness?
There’s no vision there at all
  Dickinson, Harris, & Smith, 1988

And, as a result, big companies have decided to create their own vision, separate from everyone else’s, and thrust their own visions of damnation upon us. Locking us into technology platforms that we just can’t get out of.

Proprietary designs. Proprietary protocols. Proprietary APIs. All designed to lock you in and keep you in chains.

All the big companies in the tech space at large have done it. Adobe. Apple. Google. IBM. Microsoft. Etc. And now some, like Microsoft, are taking it further than we ever thought possible. Earlier this year, Microsoft decided to go beyond automatic updates to automatic OS upgrades without the user’s permissions. (Which, of course, bricked a number of machines due to problems with drivers and underlying hardware incompatibility.) Now, they’ve supposedly backtracked on this, but it seems that those who have been upgraded, or choose to upgrade, to Windows 10 will have updates forced upon them with no ability to choose or defer, meaning their machines could be bricked at anytime! Ouch! (And that’s why the doctor does not use Windows.)

But they didn’t start the fire. (Although it appears they did a lot of research in choosing the best accelerants.) Pretty much every big tech company has forced proprietary designs (that restrict upgrades to other products provided by the same company or authorized partners), protocols (for interfacing), or APIs (for developing) upon us and still does.

And it’s not limited to the tech space at large and underlying operating systems. In our space, we have proprietary networks, like Ariba, that mandates its hosted P2P tool users also use the Ariba network for all connectivity with suppliers, even in cases where suppliers are connected to other networks that then connect to Ariba’s in the same transaction stream (Source: SpendMatters). (And since suppliers have to pay to use the Ariba Network, this puts a heavy price tag on purchases through the network as opposed to a network where the buyer pays a flat fee and the supplier doesn’t, because the supplier is just going to increase their prices to cover this cost.) And to make matters worse, as Ariba starts to lose prominence in the traditional analyst rankings, it’s stepping up its efforts with the smaller tier firms who, probably lacking the manpower to do the in-depth analysis the larger firms are capable of, are giving it rave reviews on the plus side with very little mention of the weaknesses on the negative side. Case in point: this recent review by Ovum which called Ariba the “largest supplier network”, listed four strengths, and only one weakness. SI has to wholeheartedly agree with Spend Matter’s review of Ovum’s analysis here — the coverage of the weaknesses was not thorough or fair and while SI does not have insight into Ariba’s network statistics beyond what they publish, SI does know that Basware’s volume is on par with Ariba’s published numbers. While Basware may not be a household name in North America, they are probably the biggest and most established network player in Europe in this space and one of the oldest (as the company turned 30 this year).

To make matters worse, there’s not a lot of open standards in our space. You could say that we have cXML, which a number of PunchOut sites are based on, but do we? While it is open and free for use without restrictions apart from restrictions relating to publications of modifications and naming, this protocol was not only created by Ariba in 1999 but is still controlled by Ariba. They could change it at any time, force all sites on the Ariba network to update at that time, and offer very little documentation or guidance as to how anyone outside of that network will go about doing that and, more importantly, support multiple versions simultaneously (for those in the network and those not), which would be a major IT headache. Even worse, they could decide to replace it with cXML 2.0, keep that version proprietary, and create a dichotomy where only those in the network have 2.0 and those don’t.

There is no completely free, non-proprietary, fully open-source standard in our space, and no guarantees. Proprietary Madness is a damnation that is going to haunt us for years to come.