OOXML doesn't get fast-tracked, ramblings on professionalism

· by Steve · Read in about 4 min · (657 Words)

Microsoft might have called up all their friends to vote but OOXML isn’t an ISO standard yet.

Hopefully now the proponents and detractors of OOXML can actually debate the substantive issues properly, such as the claims that there are elements over which MS can exhert unilateral control, in a way that actually justifies being called a standardisation process.

Those wanting to simplify my position on this will chalk this up to more Microsoft-bashing, but ISO standardisation is a very serious business, and it deserves to be taken so - and that’s where my problem is here. Voters on a 6,000 page document should vote in a considered, professional manner based on its merits as a vendor-independent standard, not based on their corporate allegiance. Those that signed up at the last minute, prompted or unprompted, to vote pro-OOXML clearly did so for purely commercial interest and nothing else; they weren’t involved in the process and there’s no way they could have read and mentally processed 6,000 pages in time, and certainly didn’t do it objectively.

At the worst possible end of the scale you could go as far as regarding that kind of attitude to a standardisation process as professional misconduct, akin to a doctor on a drugs approval panel voting for a drug that will be of commercial benefit to them. You might find that a bit extreme, but if we in the IT profession seek to have ourselves recognised as professionals, alongside doctors, financial advisors, lawyers etc, then we need to recognise that integrity is an absolutely crucial quality to both posess and demonstrate.

If you seek to be a true IT professional, you need to be thinking about more than what helps you sell your next product, particularly when operating as part of a cross-industry standardisation panel. The British Computer Society (BCS) (of which I’m a member) seeks to give the issue of professionalism in IT a higher profile, and I totally support that effort. When operating in a professional capacity, individuals should leave personal commercial interests outside the door and concentrate on the needs of the client. In a standardisation process, the ‘client’ is actually the industry as a whole, so judgements should be made based on what is good for the entire industry, not just pockets of it. You wouldn’t expect a lawyer to give you advice which would deliberately protract things and hence enhance the fees they can make from the proceedings, or a doctor to prescribe you some drugs from a company they have shares in. For the IT professional it’s fine to have whatever commercial interests you have when operating in that commercial environment, but when you’re called on to operate in wider circles, such as influencing government policy or taking part in international standardisation process, you really must be able to distance yourself from what impacts your bottom line and operate in a professional expert advisory role based on facts. If you can’t do that, then you don’t deserve to be called a professional.

Unfortunately I’m painfully aware that there are many people in the IT industry who are happy to act more like car salesmen than professionals, which is regrettable. Doctors and lawyers can be struck off their respective registers for unprofessional behaviour, but that’s just not the case in IT - the BCS does function in this capacity as a vendor-neutral professional body setting standards of behaviour, and I can certainly have my Chartered status revoked if I break the rules, but right now it’s really not perceived to be an essential requirement in our industry despite the work BCS are doing. It’s considered completely normal to be closely affiliated with one vendor or other and allow that to influence your advice regardless of client needs (something that would not be considered a boon in the financial services industry for example). I think as an industry we have a lot more maturing to do in this area.