David Chappell


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Standards vs. Vendor Self-Interest: The Case of BPEL  
# Monday, April 26, 2004
An employee of a large software company recently told me that since customers want portability of business processes, his firm would be obligated to provide full support for standard BPEL. His unspoken assumption was that this was somehow a moral issue, that supporting standards was the right thing to do for its own sake.

In reality, his firm is a publicly-owned American corporation, like many of the important vendors involved in BPEL. This means that the people who run it are legally obligated to maximize the firm’s profits within the boundaries of ethics and prudence. An inescapable corollary of this fact is that the stance his firm takes on BPEL should depend entirely on what approach they think will best promote this goal. IBM and BEA, for example, appear to be embracing a Java-oriented view, as expressed in their joint whitepaper on BPELJ. The goal, presumably, is to hurt their common opponent Microsoft, hoping to lock BPEL-defined business processes into the Java world. Microsoft, of course, has its own perspective on BPEL, while other firms, such as Collaxa, hold various other views.

There’s been plenty of fulmination about vendor maneuvering around BPEL. Much of it seems rooted in the same kind of innocence that prompted my interlocutor’s recent observation about his firm’s alleged obligations. The truth is that vendors will do what they think is most likely to maximize their profits, whether that means sticking religiously to the BPEL standard, proposing extensions-with-an-agenda such as BPELJ, or ignoring it completely. None of these things is morally wrong—they’re just business decisions.

Rather than getting emotional, anyone seeking to have an impact on the discussion would be much better off thinking about what’s in each vendor’s interest, then perhaps trying to educate the BPEL decision makers at key vendors so their views more closely match your own. Unless you believe free-market capitalism is wrong (in which case you’re unlikely to have much impact on the debate), stop expecting vendors do things with BPEL that aren’t in their own interest.

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