Can’t see the wood for the trees

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Is an English expression meaning that you are not seeing what is happening in the detail of the wood on a particular tree, because you are still looking at the same overall picture of the forest that appears not to be changing. I have a similar feeling when I look at the work of OASIS, […]

Is an English expression meaning that you are not seeing what is happening in the detail of the wood on a particular tree, because you are still looking at the same overall picture of the forest that appears not to be changing. I have a similar feeling when I look at the work of OASIS, and for that matter other ‘standards’ groups, such as Open Group, OMG, etc. They seem to be a part of the landscape, there in the background doing things that are worthwhile, but probably not going to have much, if any, impact on my daily work.

The following OASIS notice posted last month shows just how wrong this view is becoming:

A new OASIS technical committee is being formed. The OASIS Forest Industries Technical Committee has been proposed by the members of OASIS listed below. The proposal, below, meets the requirements of the OASIS TC Process [a]. The TC name, statement of purpose, scope, list of deliverables, audience, and language specified in the proposal will constitute the TC’s official charter.

It’s not just the idea that vertical industry sectors are increasingly working together to combine technology standards and their business process that makes you look again. It’s that this has become so much the normal approach that industry sectors like Forest products are getting in on the act. Forest Products is not a cutting edge user of IT, and may be that’s the point. I think us IT professionals are viewing a forest of traditional IT systems that we are paid to manage, maintain, and extend, whilst the users are deep down in the forest looking at some interesting wood.
It’s all the different devices that are becoming the issue, and it’s the way that they communicate and exchange data that interests these guys. Nothing illustrates this like seeing how General Electric knew the location of everyone of its portable generators during the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. Written over Google Earth there they all were, visible to any browser allowed to see them. Anyone working on relief could do it, and General Electric were able to help a lot of people out because they were the only people who knew exactly where each unit was, if it was working, needed attention, etc.
What part of traditional IT is that? More importantly is it based on an application in the conventional sense, with full integration etc? That’s what really strikes me about what is happening in these standards bodies, and may be we are right in thinking it doesn’t apply to our current work. But then that’s what Wang thought about PC based office automation……

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