Outbursts of immaturity

By Martin Banks

If there one thing I thought the words `mission critical’ might conjure up it is a sense of maturity, if only on the basis that `this stuff is serious business, best be serious about it for the sake of the business’. Yet it has to be said that the history of the IT business is splattered with examples of spats and infighting between the vendors.

I had hoped to see that such juvenile delinquency was a thing of the past with the emergence of the cloud. But it appears I am going to be proved wrong and the habits of a lifetime will still come to the fore.

Yes, of course such infighting is all about business, and competition in the marketplace. But it always strikes me just how much business is lost while the warring parties snipe away at each other.

The latest example is Verizon blocking its customers from using Google Wallet. The reason is, according to Verizon, that Wallet needs to be integrated with a new secure and proprietary hardware element of its mobile phones.

That word, `proprietary’, suggests that Verizon might just want to keep that hardware element for itself, so that its rival payment service to Google Wallet is the only secure payment service that exploits this piece of technology. Verizon denies it is blocking a rival service, suggesting that it is not blocking an application, something it professes categorically not to do. But it is blocking Wallet because it is not a `normal application’ – because it needs to access the new hardware element.

If this was a spat about a gaming application most of us could happily ignore it all. But as this is a spat about what could become one of the most critical of all mission critical applications – both to every company trading anything online and us as individual users – it becomes more than a little worrying.

And the worry is not technical, neither is it an argument about security. Wallet may only be on the first rungs of the mobile money services ladder – it is currently only offered by rival service provider, Sprint, with Mastercard as the only payment service provider – but there has been not the remotest hint that it is insecure.

Verizon, for its part, is a member of the Isis Consortium set up by AT&T, T-Mobile USA and Verizon. This has put together the Isis Payment System on the Isis infrastructure, which conforms to the GSMA-backed Trusted Service Manager standard. Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express have all signed up on the payments side.

What we will end up with, I guess, is now a period of market stagnation. There will be a long period of time when end users won’t be sure which type of phone to buy. The businesses that should exploit these services will be expected to sign up to both, so will probably sign up to neither to be on the safe side. Google will no doubt throw huge resources both at Wallet and its link to the Android phone market – which is now the biggest, certainly by growth rate – leaving the other payment service providers to play catch up when they realise the market may have moved elsewhere.

Worst of all, the businesses running the mission critical financial back office services to all this will be obliged to invest in the integration and security services needed to cover all possible bases that might exist.

Many years ago I was given some sage advice: `having a10% share of a big market is nearly always worth more than 100% of a small one’. Yet the attempts by vendors to own 100% simply means that market growth gets stymied, user businesses get confused and end users lose faith. A bit of collaboration could help make those `large markets’ a reality a great deal faster, and everyone could win.

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