by Balaji Narasimhan

Can CIOs enable interoperability?

Mar 08, 2016
BusinessCIOEmail Clients

The death of Ray Tomlinson, the person who put the @ in e-mail, should make us ponder about how incompatible some systems are today.

Yes, e-mail is an outdated system. Yes, it is cumbersome. Yes, we all need to move on to something better.

And yes, it is interoperable.

Think about it—if you have my mail ID, you can communicate with me no matter what other e-mail ID you have. This is like telephone—all you need is a number, and you can call from any phone.

You would think that modern systems would pick up the basics of communications from such places, but they don’t— if you have WhatsApp and I have Telegram, we will not be able to communicate.

Worse, people are going out of their way to ensure that their systems are incompatible. WhatsApp, which is facing threat from Telegram (it recently touched the 10 crore user mark), has started deliberately blocking Telegram links.

Just imagine if this happened with mail or phone. What if you are on Airtel and can’t speak to somebody on Vodafone? Or if you have a Yahoo ID and can’t mail somebody using Hotmail?

Yes, e-mail is an interoperable standard, while the likes of Telegram and WhatsApp are proprietary systems, but this attitude of “you can’t talk to your friends on my rival’s platform” is irksome, to say the least—after all, they are based on your phone numbers and are basically SMS on steroids, so it shouldn’t be too hard to make them talk to each other.

WhatsApp and Telegram are largely personal tech, but they are used in enterprises, so CIOs should take note. While what foreign companies do is their own business, the question for Indian CIOs is—what can they do to ensure that people in their enterprises are on the same page? Can a CIO recommend the usage of WhatsApp or Telegram, when these are essentially personal choices and not enterprise software?

These are hard questions and they don’t have easy answers. But this doesn’t mean that CIOs are powerless. For example, if you read this 2004 Computerworld article about interoperability between Sun and Microsoft, you will see how large enterprises forced both companies to interoperate.

Can a consortium of international CIOs ensure that there is greater interoperability between competing systems? Can they tell WhatsApp and Telegram to start talking to each other, or face a ban in their organizations?

If they can, this will redefine their roles—not only can they change their own organizations, they can also bring about positive change in the way technology is created and used in the larger world.

Think about it—this is far superior to getting your CFO to sign on the dotted line for the next project.