Monday, November 1, 2021

Working the great resignation: How employers can transform to a mutual advantage

he so-called
great resignation has anywhere from half to two-thirds of U.S. workers looking for something other than their current situation. Whatever the percentage, there’s no question that workers across the board have and continue to quit in droves.

And whether the exit is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the culmination of decades of various trends, or some combination, the bottom line is that employers need to give workers better reasons to remain.

Stay with
BriefingsDirect as we explore new research into why one of the tightest labor markets the world has ever seen means an end to business as usual. We’ll explore ways that the shifting expectations of employees may lead to a transformation of employment -- that can work to everyone’s advantage.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To learn more about the transition to a healthier and more sustainable environment for employee well-being and satisfaction, please welcome Amy Haworth, Senior Director of Employee Experience at Citrix, and Melissa Swift, U.S. and Canada Transformations Services Leader at Mercer. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Amy, the latest research Citrix sponsored into the future of work provides new insights into the great resignation. Are there some myths that people have been holding onto? Were you surprised by the survey results? 

Haworth: The question on everyone’s mind right now, especially our leaders, is what’s happening? Why are people leaving?


And so, Citrix undertook some recent research because we had a hypothesis that some of the exit is due to burnout and some might be due to freak-outs. We found that 35 percent of the respondents to our survey say burnout is the cause of them leaving a job, but only 6 percent said that they panicked and made an emotionally-driven decision.

I also found it interesting that 33 percent left a job just because they wanted to try something new. Some 13 percent saw it as a way to inject certainty into their future.

These data points help both human resources (HR) leaders, and leaders in general, figure out the root cause of the exodus. If we know, for example, that 33 percent just want to try something new then we might be able to do something with that inside of our organizations before they ever walk out the door.

A big hypothesis I hear among leaders inside and outside of our own organization is that there’s something around the salary bubble and this tight competitive labor market. The going rate for many roles is becoming higher and higher. But according to our research, that’s not what’s inspiring workers to seek new roles. Actually, 53 percent of those who had left their role took a pay cut. The drive for more money isn’t necessarily at the heart of why people are making these changes. And I think that’s also an important thing for organizations to be aware of.

Gardner: Because we’re over a year-and-a-half into COVID, this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction. And they’re not just looking to make a quick increase in their salary. This seems to be a strategic, long-term, thoughtful type of reaction. Is that your takeaway?

Workers want the most of their talents

Haworth: Definitely. One of the things that we have probably all experienced ourselves, as well as seen in our colleagues, is a lot of self-reflection. You know, what drives us to get up and make the most of our lives, of our talents, and of our time. What sort of experiences are we looking to have during our lifespan?

What's Behind the Global Worker Shortage

And How to Mitigate Damage to Your Business

We’re seeing this reflected in the labor market around the choices people are making. There’s a curiosity and a desire to explore and maybe take a little bit of risk. We found that 60 percent of the respondents joined start-ups and accepted equity in exchange for salary. That’s new and unprecedented.

Gardner: Melissa, from your perspective at Mercer, and through the research you have done, do you agree that the great resignation is not just a blip on the screen, but is more momentous?

Swift: Yes, absolutely. Interestingly, we did some surveying – what we call an inside the employees’ minds survey -- where we spoke to 2,000 people about their thinking about leaving their roles. What needs did they have that were not being met?

Normally from our benchmark data, about 28 percent of people say they are thinking about leaving their roles -- and that’s exactly, to the percentage point, what we observed in the latest data from our survey. Yet it feels like nearly everybody is moving, but in reality, it’s the same proportion of people who have always considering resigning.

The difference we’re seeing then is, do they then pull the trigger and quit? Is there more willingness to get up and move? That’s where the data Amy is citing – about the underlying motivations for moving – is really fascinating and resonates well with what we have seen in our research, too.

Gardner: Tell us about Mercer, and why these human capital issues are critical and essential for your business.

Swift: We are the consultancy that’s looking to change -- and make better -- the world of work. We have a deep heritage in analytically driven solutions and in understanding the dynamics of pay markets, job architecture, and employee experience.

From a data and analytics point of view, what’s exciting about the work Mercer is doing now is in taking that legacy of deep analysis and contextualizing it to the transformation challenges of today. We’re examining what we can do that’s fundamentally anchored in real evidence that’s going to genuinely change organizations.

Gardner: How should businesses transform themselves to take advantage of these changes? Amy, are workers essentially providing a new set of requirements about their workplace and habits? How should employers react?

Haworth: The power has shifted in a lot of ways. Employee voices are beginning to shape organizational environments. For me and in my career, over a couple of decades, I’ve never seen this before.

I look to the bright spots. For example, what keeps people where they are? And what the new data shows validates the hypothesis of how important flexibility is. Forty percent of the respondents to our survey said they are staying in their current role because they can work with flexibility.

I look to the bright spots. What keeps people where they are? And what the new data shows validates the hypothesis of how important flexibility is. Forty percent of the respondents said they are staying in their current role because they can work with flexibility.

Now, that can mean different things to different organizations -- whether that’s flexibility around time of day or place. But this ability to be empowered is an underlying theme. It just keeps bubbling up, this balance of empowerment and accountability. 

It goes along with trust and flexibility; to marry these concepts together into a new kind of exchange: We will give you trust and flexibility, you in return impact the outcomes and results. And so, even if the music has changed, we’re still dancing the dance of work. But the music has changed -- and it’s empowering employees to have an opportunity. I think of it as a sacred time period to shine and to show what’s possible in terms of rethinking older ways of thinking.

This is what work now looks like. This is how it’s now done. Cal Newport, in one of his books talks about retranslating the factory floor mentality from off the factory floor and into office spaces. But we’re rethinking that. We have such a great environment at this point in time to rethink all the assumptions.

Gardner: Seeing as we’ve been going steadily digital as a society for more than 25 years, there’s been a lot of experimentation already. The gig economy, for example, works out for some, but for others it has not been so great. No security, no benefits, no control over the hours, and so forth.

Are we simply expanding the gig economy mentality? Is that what trust and flexibility mean? Melissa, are we just going to more of a gig economy?

Swift: It’s an interesting question. There’s some skepticism about the gig economy. I would postulate that there are two gig economies out there. There’s one based on flexibility and worker empowerment. And then there’s the kind of accidental gig economy, where people are not being paid a living wage and forced to work multiple jobs.

When you say, gig economy, I picture both. And for the former one, I think you’re right. It is a model we’re going toward. We’re looking at work and decomposing it, then putting it back together by allowing talent to flow to work -- rather than the age-old construct of a job description written a decade ago that we try to force an individual into. I do think that trend is encouraging.

Gardner: Amy, we have been going through a transformation to more digital everything. But like the factory analogy, we have not necessarily caught up to it -- or even recognized it. And so, when we look at the way that corporations and consumers use digital services, it’s on a per-use-basis, or just-in-time.

But the way we hire people, it isn’t really like that. Has the COVID-19 experience given us an opportunity to pause and say, “Wow, we’re out of synch. We’re out of whack between the way services and the service economy now works, and the way people work.”

Work is not one size fits all

Haworth: I hear a very human-centered aspect to what you’re saying. It builds on Melissa’s point of talent flowing in a very different model, to where it’s going to where they can be most successful, and of having opportunities to use their strengths.

I often think about the role of technology in enabling that shift. One of the most exciting things about this Covid experiment is the innovation that’s come from it. The technology space finds and meets these real needs.

How do we create situations where there is still human connection? An interesting piece points to a new combination of technology, talent, and what people need to survive and thrive in both their work and personal lives.

But how do we create situations where there is still human connection? Are we matching the needs of people in new ways? An interesting piece about how this might unfold in the workforce points to a new combination of technology, talent, and what people need to survive and thrive in both their work and personal lives.

How those come together means rethinking what has been driving people to work in a gig format. There’s this unprecedented level of flexibility, but there is also a need to have benefits and to help with the human aspects of who we are. We still need to feel secure and comfortable, and to not suffer emotions like worrying and anxiety that linger in the background. We want to enable everyone to do their best work.

Gardner: Melissa, one of the buzz words of the past few years in business has been the customer experience. And digital everything has increasingly given people what they want and how they want it. As consumers, we have enjoyed that. But, as employees, we don’t necessarily see that same emphasis. That’s why we need to have people such as Amy and an emphasis on employee experience.

Is there a disjoint between what we’ve become used to as consumers, and what we would like to receive as workers?

Swift: Organizations have done brilliantly for consumers on customization and personalization. For example, Netflix is targeting you with exactly the shows you want to watch, et cetera. Whereas, at work, we still treat people as if they were a big block of cheddar cheese, right? We’re all one block of cheese. That’s not a great experience.

One of the interesting things that came out in our Mercer research was that, of the people thinking about resigning, certain groups were considering it much more seriously. For example, 35 percent of Black or African American workers and 40 percent of Asian workers were thinking about leaving, compared to only 26 percent of white employees.

Arm Your Company to Win the Global Battle

Data like that speaks to people having very different employee experiences at work. We need to be a lot more thoughtful, to say, “Okay, it’s not a big block of cheddar cheese. Not everybody has the same needs and the same experiences.” We must create equity of experience across groups, which is clearly not happening now. But then, on the other hand, we need to meet people where they are, and, to your point, that’s what a real consumer-like experience is, and people are not getting that at work. 

Gardner: We’re not just reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, in my estimation. That might be a catalyst, but we are on the precipice of major demographic and social trends, too. We have baby boomers retiring, the re-evaluation of global supply chains, and things like peak oil, peak carbon, and more sensitivity to equality and inclusiveness.

Amy, are we at a point where so many things are changing that there is an inevitability of more worker empowerment? In hindsight, it seems as though this has been building for decades. Do you agree?

Haworth: I do agree, Dana, especially the piece about a building tsunami of the need to be adaptable as humans. I remember at the beginning of the pandemic thinking about human agility as a business continuity strategy.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the field of organizational transformation. Many years before 2020, I came to this realization that that change was no longer something we could manage. What was more valuable to invest in was building resilience in people and enabling them to pivot -- individually and personally.

That means knowing what resources they have available to them and of thinking about what else we need to do, to supplement them at an individual level; to enable them to construct their own toolbox to be agile. When we think about what’s to come, we hear a lot about complexity, that there will not be a day that is less complex than the day we’re in today. It’s just going to continue to get more complex and to move faster.

Technology is going to play a bigger and bigger role in our lives -- and in our work lives. The boundary between the two is permeable forever. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever go back to a separate boundary between them. So, as we think about the idea of transformation, where we’re headed, and the path we’re on, this concept of peak work that you mentioned, is a period of adaptation.

What is it that we are going to invent and pioneer? Will we leave behind old modes of thinking and make sense of things that have simply expired? And what do we need to be putting in their place to make sense of how we live and work going forward?

Gardner: I suppose another conclusion we can make from what’s going on is that the stakes are quite high. If you’re an employer and you’re not recognizing this as a transformative time, that we’re not going to revert back to the 1950s Americana version of the world, then perhaps being proactive and embracing the transformation is not just a nice-to-have but is existential?

For organizations that don’t, they’re not going to get the employees that they want. They might not even get employees sufficient to do the work at hand. So, the transformation here seems to be absolutely essential. How do we encourage our organizations to be proactive rather than reactive to what’s going on?

Reframe work to fit the future profit

Swift: A big part of the journey is reframing what we’ve traditionally thought of as tradeoffs. The biggest one is, we can either treat our workers well or we can make lots of money. There are so many assumptions that are predicated off of that. And it’s a fundamentally wrong belief. It’s because we haven’t explored what a human-centric workplace might look like.

Coming back to Amy’s comment citing Cal Newport’s work, of the workplace as machine versus workplace as a human engine, we haven’t really tried that latter model. If we come at it from a point of view of where growth is going to come from, is it going to be by prioritizing our human workers and designing systems that use their best to do better -- rather than trying to force fit them into a machine?

We have to reframe our cultural myth-making. As we mythologize the past, we're going to want to keep returning to it rather than saying, "Here's the actual reality. Here's what was good. Here's what was bad." Let's figure out how we can pull on those good threads.

I think that’s the energizing concept. I also think there’s a need for an element of clarity on what the past actually looked like. It’s funny that you referred to 1950s Americana. The experience of the 1950s, for a lot of groups in America, was not so hot, right? If you were a woman, if you were a person of color, the 1950s were rough.

Part of what we have to do is reframe our cultural myth-making. As we mythologize the past, we’re going to want to keep returning to it rather than saying, “Here’s the actual reality. Here’s what was good. Here’s what was bad.” Let’s figure out how we can pull on those good threads more and crowd out the bad stuff, to be more realistic about what the journey looks like because that’s part of the issue. We’ve told ourselves a story about a glorious thing we must return to, and there’s some lack of truth at the heart of that story.

Gardner: Melissa, what you’re saying harkens back to the research that Citrix uncovered around more people wanting to go to startups. There’s something about a startup culture where “we’re all in this,” “we’re all benefiting,” and “we’re creating something new.” Perhaps, non-startups need to leave the past behind and behave more like startups, Amy?

Haworth: Yes. I think there’s so much to be learned from some of these responses around the startup draw: The chance to pioneer something, the chance to start with a blank slate. And one of the things I think is so interesting is the connection to impact that startups have.

Oftentimes, heritage companies have a lot more distance between what originally propelled them as a company and what their business is now, for example. Maybe the mission is diluted among many things. Startups, on the other hand, typically have a very central focus and it’s very easy to see that connection to what I get up and do every day by solving an impactful problem or creating an awesome experience.

And so, the lesson that any company can take is a closer connection to a meaning. That’s definitely been a resounding drum beat over the last 18 months, this need to connect to meaning and impact, which is a very human need -- needing to be seen, to know we’re making a difference. That move to the startup culture is potentially a symptom or outcome of that deeper need -- no matter if your company is 150 years or five days old.

That’s something I would encourage all organizations to pay attention to.

Gardner: I’ll play the devil’s advocate to my own observation. Just like there’s myths about the 1950s, there are myths about startups, too. Sometimes not everyone is a rock star. Not everyone is under age 35 and can work 90 hours a week. Not everyone is of a certain demographic slice. So, perhaps we should borrow some things from the startup culture, but maybe not everything.

Once again, we’re back to this recurring idea of hybrid when it comes to the future of work.

Swift: I love what Amy was saying about the role of purpose, because that’s something I’m writing a book on, about the future of work. And in my research, it’s interesting, you have folks in the 1800s who studied work. They talk very clearly about how having a purpose at work is one of the things that makes life meaningful.

This is an age-old idea that we’re coming back to and that the startup environment understands. We want to know, “This is the purpose of my work,” and, “This is the impact that my work has,” right? “Here’s how I play into the overall schema.”

It’s interesting that those same researchers in the 1800s also identified work-life balance as something that makes work, work -- and makes life work. It’s funny because we don’t think about those concepts dating back that far. And that’s where the startup world generally falls flat on its face.

To your point, there is some work-life balance that’s been created in the corporate arena, and some purpose-driven work and impact from the startup world. How do we marry those up together, and where do those two things best come together?

I think it’s fundamentally being unafraid to redesign work. That’s not just tweaking job descriptions. It’s not all these little things you do around the edges. It’s fundamentally taking a step back and saying, “Is this work being done properly on a micro-level, in this role, and also on a macro-level across this organization?” Let’s take a step back. Could we do the whole work of this company differently? That’s the energy that people are really hungering for today.

Gardner: Right. Might as well look to do everything differently, because we’re at a time when the technology has never been more capable and pervasive.

Amy, as we’re transforming the very concept of work, should we recognize that it’s intrinsically tied to technology? For those organizations that are still doing “digital transformation,” it seems you don’t even need the word “digital” anymore. It’s just transformation.

Tech transforms how work happens

Haworth: Every transformation does have to be digital. Most every worker must have that digital-first mindset these days because there’s such opportunity there.

As we seek equity and understanding of the different experiences people have, we can give thought to the role technology can play in building that equity and in making sure there’s equal access no matter where you’re doing your work. Work no longer must be a place. Work is something that we do that generates value and impact.

Technology can establish a shared digital workspace, where we can convene, connect, and provide a common, transparent environment. All teams can have consistent access to applications and information to efficiently collaborate on projects to get work done, wherever that might be.

Technology can establish a shared digital workspace, where we can convene, connect, and provide a common, transparent environment. All teams have consistent access to applications and information to efficiently collaborate.

These capabilities open up so many interesting opportunities for organizations to consider, even as they’re making decisions about redefining work and going beyond the edges of our current boundaries for work. They can be bold and ask big questions. A lot of what we thought was true has been shaken up. I hope it’s a call to all of us to take action and to question more regularly.

Ask, “Is that true? Does it have to be true? What if it’s not true?” And I think this will open up a lot of possibilities for the role that technology can play in redefining how work is done.

Gardner: Melissa, while all transformation these days might be digital, we can’t look to the IT department to do this, right? The IT department has a lot to offer, but the architecting and re-architecting of work strikes me as something that should be inclusive of so much more.

Who or what is in a position to look at the big picture and make the grand architectural adjustments that are clearly needed? How does this get managed? Who governs it?

Swift: It’s a wonderful question. For me, the ideal governance sits between three figures. To your point, the chief information officer (CIO) needs to be integrally involved. Then the chief human resources officer (CHRO), because so many of these decisions are about people and how they do their work. And the last person who needs to get roped in more, and who is not as involved in many organizations, is the chief financial officer (CFO).

That’s because so many of the decisions that short-circuit transformation have to do with short-term cost objectives. It becomes a failure to play the long game, and to take an investment approach. It requires challenging the ways of working long-term because there is always going to be that middle-distance, where they will say, “Well, we made a change and it’s not as efficient in the exact near term as it has been.” That’s where you get hesitancy sometimes from the finance function, understandably.

That’s why you need that three-headed governance of technology, the money, and the people to all come together. And then you need genuine oversight from chief executive officer (CEO) and at the board level. “How we do work” is a CEO- and board-level issue. It’s great that we see some of the issues around diversity, equity, and inclusion starting to migrate up to the CEO and board levels. We need more awareness around the working experience and for it to be owned at that elevation.

Gardner: People have been railing against short-term, Wall Street objectives and the corrosive impact that’s had on business forever. It strikes me that we are really talking about rethinking of more than just work here. Maybe hyper-capitalism isn’t sustainable for lots of reasons.

Amy, any thoughts about that? As long as Wall Street demands awesome quarterly reports, how can we expect companies to change in a long way, that allows them to transform?

Haworth: It sounds like a paradox, Dana, but I think the solution is the same. When we invest in the human element at work, when we put our talent first and center, business performance skyrockets.

Getting smart about putting talent at the center -- really designing for human beings, not gears in a machine -- is going to enable companies to make Wall Street happy. But it requires a mindset about it being an investment. It means the CFO understands there is a clear return on investment (ROI) for human-centered programs: investment in empathy building, learning, and upskilling. These have a dividend that will make Wall Street very happy.

Yet shifting what comes first and what comes later, that’s kind of chicken-and-egg. A big piece of it is being willing to try, being willing to experiment. When I think about what companies need to do, it’s like taking the position of a scientist or designer. You must be willing to have a hypothesis and test it. See if it proves out, and then make the decision to scale. Running lots of little experiments is going to help us all figure out what the future really needs to be to meet people where they are.

Gardner: Melissa, regardless of what’s happened in the past, this seems like an unprecedented opportunity to transform and create a new set of long-term priorities. It seems like it’s inevitable. Let’s examine the inevitability of transformation. What else can organizations do to overcome formally intransigent aspects of their culture?

Listen and meet workers’ needs

Swift: It’s interesting to think about how fundamental some of the unmet needs of workers are right now. In our data, workers rated things like physical health and mental health as in their top three unmet needs. That to me is really striking because, if you think about where those things are on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they are pretty low in the pyramid.

That provides in some ways the business case for transformation because, right now, if we are not meeting our workers’ most basic needs, then everything else we might expect flows from there. And, again, we can’t just make the surface, incremental changes. We must go in and re-architect at the heart. Why? Because right now we can’t even hit the basics.

The psychological or emotional journey that organizations need to go on means taking a step back and saying, “You know, it’s not that we are doing pretty okay right now, and we need to do a little better. It’s fundamental. There are aspects about work here that are broken. But we have this incredible opportunity to fix it.”

That’s the really energizing thing about talking about transformation in the current moment.

Gardner: Amy, how does Citrix factor into this future of work and where can people go to learn more?

Haworth: We have on a lovely section just full of great research, thought leadership, and perspectives. It’s called Fieldwork. I recommend that your listeners and readers take some time to check out what’s there. We keep it updated with new research and new tools. Our goal is to help us all think about building the future of work together, challenge old assumptions, and provide useful tools to help us move forward.

Gardner: Melissa, how is Mercer helping in this transformation of work? Where can people learn more about it?

Hybrid Work Has Opened the Door

To a New Kind of 'Gig-with-Benefits' Model

Swift: We help companies with an interesting array of challenges right now. Everything from how to increase the many dimensions of flexible work -- not just the where, but the who, what, when, and why. That extends to full-scale work design assistance, as well as how to recreate certain roles to grapple with the effects of labor shortages by effectively creating a better version of that job by fundamentally redesigning the work itself. Again, not just tweaking the job description but everything in the ecosystem around it.

We’re answering such questions as, How do you create systems of incentives so people are incentivized to do the right thing in a transformation context? How do you better listen to your employees and understand their needs to keep up with them? We take a holistic approach. On, you can find a wealth of thought leadership and details on our solutions.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Citrix.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Open Group marks 25 years of working together to make successful standards

Way back in 1996, when web browsing was novel and central processing still ruled the roost of enterprise IT, The Open Group was formed from the merger of the Open Software Foundation and X/Open.

This October marks the 25th anniversary of remarkable achievements in the technology standards arena by The Open Group. Beginning with a focus as the publisher of the single UNIX specification technical standard and steward of the UNIX trademark, the organization has grown to more than 850 members in over 50 countries -- and it leads the field and technology standard services, certifications, research, and training.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

Stay with us as BriefingsDirect explores how standards like UNIX and TOGAF evolved to transform business and society by impacting the world as a digital adoption wave swept over human affairs during the past quarter century.

Here to commemorate The Open Group’s achievements and reminisce about the game-changing, earth-shattering, and culture-evolving advances of standards-enabled IT, are Steve Nunn, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at The Open Group; David Lounsbury, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at The Open Group, and  Jim Hietala, Vice President Business Development and Security at The Open Group. The panel discussion is moderated by
Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Steve, even after 25 years of clearly breathtaking changes across the IT landscape, why is The Open Group’s original mission as salient as ever?

Nunn: In a nutshell, it’s because the world needs open standards. That has been our heritage -- open systems, open standards. We added conformance to open standards, importantly, along the way. And it’s never been more needed than it is now.


When we began, there was a crying need for more choice among customers and more interoperability among different software applications. The main proprietary vendors just weren’t necessarily delivering that choice. So, it’s really because customers need standards.

You know, they help suppliers, too. They help all of us in our day-to-day lives. That’s why we’re still needed at 25 years on -- and we’re looking forward to a bright next 25 years.

Gardner: David, sometimes you have to pull people kicking and screaming into standards. It’s like what your mom told you about eating spinach. It’s for your own good, right?

Lounsbury: Right.

Gardner: But we couldn’t get to the current levels and breadth of technology use without them.

Meeting the need for standards

Lounsbury: That’s right. And, you know, Steve mentioned the need for standards -- and the technology does drive the standards. At the time when we were founded, there were relatively few CPU manufacturers, and now there has been an explosion in compute power and a radical fall in the cost of networking, and that’s led to lots of new ways of doing business. People are looking for guidance on how to do that, how to restructure their organizations, and on which technology platforms they need to use. That need is fueling a swing back to seeking new standards.

Gardner: Jim Hietala, with your focus on security, 25 years ago we couldn’t have imagined the things we’re facing around security today. But without people pulling together, we wouldn’t be able to buttress our supply chains. How has security in particular been enabled by standards?

Hietala: It’s interesting to look back at the past because in the world of security today you hear about two predominant themes. One is zero trust, and if you look back at some of the work the Jericho Forum was doing inside of The Open Group 10 to 12 years ago, those were the origins of what we’re calling zero trust in the security industry today.


The whole notion of perimeter security was failing. We needed to move security controls closer to the data and to secure people’s access within what were previously considered secure networks. The Jericho Forum seeded that discussion a number of years ago.

The other big issue out there today is supply chain security, with some of the supply chain security attacks in the last 18 months. And here again an initiative inside of The Open Group that was formed some 10 years ago, the Open Trusted Technology Forum (OTTF), that was brought to us by the US government, was focused on addressing the security of the hardware and software for the components that go into the IT systems being procured.

And again, we’ve had some groundbreaking work inside of The Open Group on the topic of security that’s highly relevant today, even though the environment has changed tremendously in the last 25 years.

Gardner: Yes, as Steve mentioned, this is a long game. Sometimes it takes decades for the value of these efforts to become fully evident to all the players.

I’m old enough to remember there used to be quite a few UNIX® standards or variants. The process behind pulling them together for the benefit of everyone -- both the users and ultimately the vendors as well -- became a cookie cutter model for creating standards generally.

Steve, how did the evolution of UNIX standards in particular become opportunity to do much more?

Nunn: We converted what it meant to be a UNIX system, from being derived from a certain code base, to being based on a standard. The key is it wasn’t just one standard. It was a lot of standards. There were 1170 different specs that changed what it meant to be a UNIX system. It was then all about conformance with the standard and how the system operates in connection with the standard -- rather than derived from a particular code base.

It was gathering a set of standards together. Our history since then -- this idea of a standard of standards -- has evolved and developed to make standards approachable and useful for solving business problems.

Fundamentally, at The Open Group, all our work on standards starts with trying to solve a business problem. A set of standards makes solutions more applicable, more approachable, for implementation. And increasingly nowadays we add things like developing some code alongside it. That’s the essence of it. We were transforming the first kind of UNIX standard, the Spec-1170, set of standards.

Gardner: David, what a success UNIX has become since back when we thought this was going to be just a way for workstations to interoperate better on a network. It became the foundation for Linux, BSD, and for the MacOS. It went from workstations to servers and then dominated servers. It seems that there’s no better validation for the success and power of standards and what we’ve seen with UNIX over the past 25 years.


Lounsbury: Yes, no question about it. I come from the minicomputer revolution, where I started in my career, and basically that whole industry got run out of business by UNIX systems. And now we have it, as you said, on our laptops. I’m running it on my laptop right now. It’s on all our smaller systems. Embedded processes all tend to run a variant of things that look like the UNIX standard.

If you have to create something quickly, and you want to create something that’s robust and will run predictably, you pick something that follows the UNIX standard.

Gardner: And how did you get people to rally to such standards? There’s more to this than technology. This is also about a culture of cooperation. There is a human behavioral aspect to it.

How has The Open Group been able to pull so many different threads together and repeat this? You’ve been doing this as well for TOGAF, with enterprise architecture, with Open Agile, ArchiMate, FACE, and reference architectures like IT4IT, among many others.

What is behind this ability to govern so many factions into a common goal?

Staying power of neutrality

Lounsbury: There are a couple of dimensions to it, and Steve’s already mentioned one of them. He talked about the end-customers. We recognized the value of neutrality -- not only neutrality of technology, but also the other dimension of neutrality, which is the balance between the buy-side and the supply-side.

There are many things called standards activities that are really altered to one side or the other. We found the balanced viewpoint: balanced across the technologies, balanced across the demand, which is the essential key to having stable buy-in. Now, of course, that must be built on rock-solid processes that respect all the parties, all the way through. And that’s how our formal governance comes in.

Nunn: That’s right, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The magic happens when the customers drive this. They have things that need to be achieved through standards.

The process has been essentially stable -- evolved slightly over the years -- but it's a tried-and-tested process; a consensus process of one company, one vote. It's allowed us to create trust.

The second point David made is key, too. The process has been essentially stable -- evolved slightly over the years -- but it’s a tried-and-tested process; a consensus process of one company, one vote. It’s allowed us to create trust.

That’s the word I want to want to bring out here: trust in the process, trust in the equity of the process; that all parties get to have their say. That has essentially stood us in good stead. We’ve been able to apply that process, and that same approach in governance, across many different industries and business programs.

Gardner: I suppose another key word here, Jim, is cooperation. Because while The Open Group is a steward and has been involved with governance, there’s a tremendous army of people who contribute the things that they have learned and know and then bring to all this.

How important has it been to encourage that level of cooperation? It’s astonishing how many people are involved with these standards.

Hietala: It’s critical to have that cooperation, and the work, frankly, from the members. The Open Group brings the staff who help initiate standards initiatives and run them per our processes and our governance in a fair, open, and transparent way.

But it’s the members who bring the subject matter expertise in whatever area we’re talking about. In the case of The Open Group FACE Consortium, it’s the defense contractors and government folks administering some of the programs who bring subject matter expertise that helps us produce business guides, procurement guides, and the standards themselves, as well as the reference software.

We have a saying that joining a standards effort such as The Open Group is like joining a gym. You have to not just get the membership -- you have to show up and do the work, too.

Lounsbury: Both of Steve and Jim mentioned confidence. I think that the confidence we project in the process, both the formal governance and the ability to bring people together, is the real differentiator of why The Open Group has stood the test of time.

We see many examples of groups that get together and say, “Well, why don’t we just get together and solve this problem?” And what we often find is that they don’t because they lack stability. They can’t project stability. They don’t have the endurance. The government is a good example of where they then come back to The Open Group and say, “Hey, can you help us make this a sustainable activity that will have the impact over time that we need?”

Gardner: Another key word here then is journey, because you never get to the destination, which is actually a good thing. You must be self-sustaining. It has to be ongoing, the peeling back of the onion, the solving of one problem that perhaps creates others: and then again and again.

Is that never-ending part of the standards process also a strength, Steve?

Nunn: Yes, because around the world the various industries we work with don’t stand still. There’s a new problem coming up every day, as you alluded to, Dana, that needs solving.

When a group gets together to solve an initial problem through a standard, there's much more. ...The problems don't stand still, and technology evolves the world. Disruptive events happen, and we need to adjust and update the standards accordingly.

When a group gets together to solve an initial problem through a standard, they realize there’s much more there. I can think some recent examples, such as the Open Subsurface Data Universe (OSDU) Forum, which is in the oil and gas industry. They originally got together to focus on subsurface issues. And now they’re realizing that that a standards approach can help them in many other areas of their business as well.

The problems don’t stand still, and technology evolves the world. Disruptive events happen, and we need to adjust and update the standards accordingly.

Gardner: Is there a pattern to the standards you’ve chosen to foster? You obviously have been very successful with enterprise architecture and TOGAF. You’ve gone to modeling, security, and reference architectures for how IT organizations operate.

What’s the common denominator? Why these particular standards? Is there an order to it? Is there a logic to it?

One success leads to another

Nunn: The common denominator is something mentioned earlier, which is a business need. Is there a business problem to be solved, whatever industry that might be?

Over the years, The Open Group can trace one activity where a group of companies got together to solve a business problem and then it led to several other forums. The example we usually use is The Open Group Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Consortium in federal avionics. They recently celebrated their 10th anniversary.

That effort led directly to work in the sensor architecture space, and strangely led to our Open Process Automation Forum. Members saw the great work that was being done in the FACE Consortium, in terms of a modular method that creates an architected approach. The past saw a situation where one aircraft, for example, is funded completely separately, with no reuse of technology or parts, and where everything was done from scratch with one prime contractor and subs.

And we had some other members fortunately who saw from the oil industry how a set of industry standards had emerged. They said, “We have the same issues in our industries. We want a standardized approach, too.”

As a result, the Open Process Automation Forum is doing great work, transforming the way that systems are procured.

These successes form a traceable connection between an industry that has a problem to solve and the established best ways of doing it. They come together and work on it as an industry, and through tried-and-trusted processes, rather than trying to beat each other in the marketplace to the first magic solution.

Gardner: Jim, it sounds like the need for a standard almost presents itself to you. Is that fair?

Hietala: As an outsider, you might say, “What in the world do control systems users have in common with the military avionics industry?” But the takeaway is with each iteration of this new standards initiative our staff learned better how to support the formation and operation of a set of best practices around an operating standards initiative. The members learn as well. So, you had folks from Exxon Mobil at a conference speaking about how they transformed their industry, and the light bulb went off. Others brought the idea back from the oil and gas industry.

Then we at The Open Group helped them identify similar uses in some other industries: metals and mining, pulp and paper, utilities, water utilities, and pharmaceuticals – they all use the same set of control system equipment. They all had similar problems until we were able to bring it into a standards initiative. And once you have that sort of support behind an initiative, the suppliers don’t have a choice but to pay attention, get involved, and help drive the initiative themselves.

Gardner: David, it’s clear that just presenting a standard isn’t the only factor for success. You must support it with certifications, additional research, events, and forums that continuously bring people together in an atmosphere for collaboration and ongoing training. You’ve not only broadened the scope of what The Open Group does in terms of the standards, but also a wider set of functions that augment and support those standards.

Lounsbury: That’s right. Both Jim and Steve mentioned the process of discovery by the members, or by potential members, and the value of standards. That’s a critical component because the natural instinct is for people to go off and try to solve things on their own, or to get a magic bullet competitively.

The art of what we do is help members understand that only through collective action, only through wide agreement, is there going to be a sufficient response to solve the business problem.

But part of the art of what we do is help members understand that only through collective action, only through a wide agreement, is there going to be a sufficient response to solve the business problem and provide a center of gravity for the vendors to invest in building the systems that embrace and employ the standards.

And so, a part of building that continuing confidence is knowing that there will be trained people who know how to use the standard effectively. There will be systems that conform to the standard, and you can get together with peers in your industry to find out about what’s going on at the cutting edge of technology.

And, frankly, even the social networking, just meeting people face to face builds confidence that everybody is working toward the common objective. All of these things are critical supporting pieces that give people confidence to invest in solutions and the confidence to specify that when they purchase.

Gardner: It seems like a big part of the secret sauce here is mutual assured success for as many of the people in the ecosystem -- on all sides of the equation -- as possible. It sounds simple, but it’s really hard to do.

Nunn: It is, Dana. And you need champions, the people who are passionate about it in their own organizations.  

For me, the single biggest differentiator and reason for The Open Group’s success so far is that we have a very respected set of certification programs and processes. The importance of certification is that it gives standards some teeth. It gives them meaning. We’re not just publishing standards for the sake of it, and nobody uses them. They’re being used by trained people. There might also be certified products out there, too.

Certification helps turn it into an ecosystem, and that in turn gets people more engaged and seeking to evolve it and be part of the movement. Certification is key because of the teeth that it gives the standards.

Gardner: Well, the custom is when we have an anniversary to do toasts. Usually, toasts are anecdotal or remembrances. Are there any such moments in hindsight that ended up being formative and important over the past 25 years?

Cheers to 25 years of highlights

Nunn: For years, we had heard that UNIX was going away, that it’s not relevant anymore. I think the work we’ve done has proven that’s not the case.

Another highlight or breakthrough moment was when we got our TOGAF practitioner certification program up and running. That spread around the world to a large number of individuals who are certified and who are promoting the value of the standard itself.

We’ve created a community over the years, even though that community is harder to bring together right now in the pandemic days. But certainly, for the vast majority of our history, we have brought people together; these people are familiar with each other, and new people come in.

The face-to-face element is special. Somebody recently made a great point about the effect of the pandemic. And the point was that you need the personal interactions in developing standards. Standards are about contributing intellectual property, but also about compromise. It’s about discussing what’s best for the relevant industry. And that’s hard to achieve in a virtual world.

You need the dinners, the beers, whatever it might be to build the social networking and up the trust for the individuals in these situations who are often from competing companies. The way that we have encouraged the community and built up what we’ve often called “The Open Group family” over the years is a key factor for us.

Gardner: David, what are some anecdotes that come to mind that highlight the first 25 years?

Lounsbury: I’m going to pick up on Steve’s theme of face-to-face meetings. One that stands out in my mind was the first face-to-face FACE Consortium meeting, which was at a vendor building on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

And, I’ll be honest, there was a ton of skepticism, both from the government agencies and from some of the larger vendors, that this could ever possibly come together. And because we got the people together and we had a few enthusiastic champions -- not necessarily the people who started things out -- but the people who saw the value of cooperative industry engagement -- we got it together. And 60 companies walked out of that room saying, “Yeah, this might actually work.” And from then on -- that was over 10 years ago -- it changed the way avionics are produced. And now it has inspired changes in other industry verticals as well.

Because we got people together and we had a few enthusiastic champions we got it together. What we sometimes call The Open Group Way differentiates how we create standards. It has inspired changes in other industries as well.

So, what we sometimes call The Open Group Way differentiates how we create standards from what had gone on in other standards activities that they had been engaged in.

Gardner: Jim, what’s your toast to the past quarter-century?

Hietala: At little bit higher level, I point to the fact that The Open Group has grown to more than 850 member organizations from dozens of countries. The specific things that resonate with me and made an impact over the years are engaging with all those members from the many different countries and nationalities at events we’ve held.

That and to getting to over 120,000 TOGAF-certified people, which is a huge milestone and was definitely not an overnight success. TOGAF was tens of years in the making, so those to me are indicative of where we’ve come in 25 years.

Gardner: It seems that the Tower of Babel isn’t particularly high when it comes to information technology (IT). The technology is a common denominator that cuts across cultures and boundaries. There really is a common world stage for IT.

IT – The universal language

Hietala: I think that’s true. There’s probably work that goes on inside of standards organizations like The Open Group, that isn’t necessarily seen, that enables that. There’s a fair amount of work translating the products of The Open Group into various native languages, such as Brazilian Portuguese, French, or Spanish, or Chinese. Those often happen at the ground level by volunteers, typically from the countries that want to enable adoption of what they see as a highly valuable standard.

Lounsbury: The profusion of technology you mentioned has driven a fundamental change in the way people run their businesses. And The Open Group is very much at the forefront of thinking about how that’s best going to happen.

What does it mean to architect your business going forward when you have all of these new management techniques, all of this new technology that’s available at very low cost causing these fundamental shifts in how you interact with your customers and in your ecosystem? That’s currently on the forefront of the minds of many of the groups working inside The Open Group.

We all know there’s a new management book a day nowadays. That’s why there’s a growing demand for stability of guidance in this world. How to do these new digital ways of working? We look to standards bodies to come out with that guidance. Our members are working on it.

Gardner: I suppose the past is prologue. And back when I first got involved with enterprise IT in the late 1980s, this type of technology transformation was still fringe in business. But it’s become more than mainstream, it’s become dominant.

We talk about digital transformation. We could probably just drop digital, now it’s transformation, period. Given the depth, breadth, and importance of IT to business and society -- where do we go from here?

How do you take the success you’ve had for the past 25 years and extend that to an even grander stage?

Standards provide frame for future transformation

Nunn: As Dave said, organizations have to transform. They’re looking for structure. They’re looking for tools that help go through this transformation. It can’t happen soon enough. The pandemic has been an accelerator.

But they need a framework, and standards provide that framework. That doesn’t mean exactly the same approach for all standards. But I don’t think we need to fundamentally change the way standards are built.

We’ve talked about our legacy of trust and the tried-and-tested. We need to evolve how things are done as we go forward, to fit with the speed with which transformation needs to occur and the demands that individual organizations in their industries have.

But we definitely now have a very solid bedrock for evolving, and the transformation aspect of it is key because people see standards as helping them transform. Standards give them something to work with when so much all around is changing.

Gardner: Jim, how do you take the success you’ve had with digital standards and expand the use of the methodologies?

Hietala: We’ve seen that the practices, business model, and the approach to taking a big industry problem and solving it through the development of standards has been proven to work. Companies in need of those standards efforts are comfortable looking at The Open Group and saying, “You’re an honest broker to be in the middle of this and make something happen.”

For example, a member from our OSDU Forum looked at what was happening there and saw a similar need inside of his company. It happened to be in the energy industry, but he saw a problem around how to measure and manage their carbon footprint. They examined the approach used in the OSDU and said, “That’s what we need over here to determine what our carbon footprint is.”

Taking a big industry problem and solving it through the development of standards has been proven to work. Companies in need of those standards efforts are comfortable looking to The Open Group.

And what they found quickly in looking at that customer need was that that’s a universal need. It’s certainly not just an energy industry issue. Cement companies, large auto manufacturers, and many others all have that same need. They would all be well served by having a standard effort that produces not just standards but a reference software platform that they could build from that helps them measure and manage any carbon footprint. The approach has evolved a bit. We’re able to support now open-source initiatives alongside of standards initiatives. But fundamentally our consensus-oriented standard process has not changed.

And that’s the way we build these initiatives, rally industry support, and take them from looking at the customer business problem to producing standards and business guides. The way we address the issues hasn’t changed.

Gardner: David, if you can apply the lessons learned at The Open Group to even more challenging and impactful problems, that sounds worth doing. Is that part of your next 25 years?

Lounsbury: Yes, it certainly is. There’s a couple of dimensions to it. There’s the scale in number of people who are engaged. And we’ve given plenty of examples of how we went from a core standard like UNIX or IT4IT or TOGAF and applied those same proven techniques to things such as how you do avionics, which led to how to do process control systems, which led to how to do subsurface data. That has all led to a tremendous expansion in the number of organizations and people who are engaged with The Open Group.

The other dimension of scale is speed. And that is something where we need to keep our standards up to date, and that has evolved. For example, we’ve restructured our architecture portfolio to have more modular content. That’s something we’re going to be looking at across all of our core standards, including how we link them together and how we make them more cohesive.

We’re looking at reducing the friction in keeping standards up to date and improving the pace so they’re competitive with those one-off, two-people-writing-a-book kinds of guidance that characterizes our industry right now.

Gardner: For those who have been listening and are now interested in taking an active role in open standards, where can they go? Also, what’s coming next, Steve?

Nunn: Yes, we’ll have some anniversary celebrations. We have a great event in October. We’re doing a moving global event over a 24-hour period. So, a few hours hosted in each of several locations around the world where we have offices and staff and significant membership.

We also have an ever-growing number of active meetings in our groups. Most of them, because of the pandemic, have been virtual recently. But we’re starting to see, as I mentioned earlier, the eagerness for people to get together face-to-face again when, of course, it’s safe to do so and people feel comfortable to do so.

And we’ll be looking at not just what we’ve achieved but also looking at how we make the next steps. A big part of that relates to the work we’ve done with governments around the world. A good example is the government of India, which recently published a standard called IndEA, based on our TOGAF Enterprise Architecture standard.

It’s being used to fundamentally transform government services, not just in the national government of India, but in various states there. And then other countries are looking at that work. We also have work going on with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in healthcare and digital services for citizens.

We’re doing a lot of work with governments to make a real difference to people’s lives as citizens, in countries that may need to catch up with some of the more developed countries. They’re using our standards and the work groups we’ve put together to get up to speed.

For me, that’s an exciting part of our future: The difference we can make in people’s daily lives.

Gardner: And, of course, a lot of this information is on your website, Any other resources that people should be aware of?

Lounsbury: Yes, all our standards are free to download from our library on our website. You can obviously find how to register for events on the website, too. At the Forum level, there’s good information about each Forum that we’ve been working on. There’s always a contact form associated with each of the Forum webpages so you can leave your details and someone from our team will get in touch and tell you how to get involved.

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