May 05, 2004

The announcement earlier this month that Microsoft and Sun Microsystems not only had agreed on a legal settlement of their long-standing antitrust, patent and licensing disputes but actually had forged an interoperability agreement seemed almost anticlimactic. In fact, for all the chest thumping, verbal one-upmanship and litigation of the past 15 years, my guess is the general reaction within the business technology community to the news of the peace pact was basically, "Oh, were they still at it?"

I tired long ago of the inevitable Microsoft v. Sun v. IBM face-offs that have been a staple of conferences for so many years. Not only did the debate usually remind me of how my two younger brothers used to tease and torture each other just to get the best seat in front of the TV (of course, as the older sister, I was always above the fray), but it also seemed increasingly irrelevant to the needs and expectations of corporate customers, particularly in banking and other financial services segments.

Although it has taken a long time for the promise of open systems and interoperability to be realized, it seems that finally there is some alignment of customer requirements, technology capabilities and vendor strategies. Just as banks have recognized that they must offer their customers a multichannel environment - the opportunity to interact with an institution in any way (e.g., branch, online, etc.) that the client desires - the organizations themselves want the ability to make technology investments based on what makes sense from a business perspective, rather than what is mandated by a particular platform, legacy core system or marketing agenda.

Of course, the operating system/brand proselytizers, true believers and bigots are still alive and well, but you won't find too many of them running bank IT organizations. Ironically, perhaps, the ability to place one's technology bets accurately has never been more important in this era of still-limited budget and RFP/project management transparency. Technology and line-of-business executives can't be distracted by name calling when they are trying to determine and deliver ROI on systems investments, and maybe Sun's and Microsoft's management teams have recognized this. After all, even my kid brothers learned to share the comfy chair.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...