A dark scary apparition in mysterious forest
PHOTO: Adobe Stock

The Gist: 

  • Their goal: The OSIRIS Alliance wants to make it easier to pack up data and migrate from one digital platform to another. 
  • Their plan: They plan to achieve this goal through a set of standards that they hope both users and vendors will readily adopt. 

What if developers didn’t have to spend considerable time and money creating integrations that allow one platform to communicate with another? 

What if it was easy to pack up your data and migrate from one digital platform to another? If taking advantage of the latest technology didn’t require hours of manpower and dollars wasted? 

If the OSIRIS Alliance can fulfill its mission, that may be possible. 

How Vendor Lock-in Affects Businesses' Ability to Adopt New Technologies

There are more than 8,000 digital platforms available today, according to the OSIRIS Alliance. And each of them speaks its own “language.” 

This disparity in platform frameworks makes it harder for new platforms to gain popularity on the market and harder for businesses to upgrade to newer technologies. Why? Because an organization already using one system can’t easily migrate to another. It’s too costly and time to market is too long. 

You may have heard the term “vendor lock-in.” It refers to the idea that the cost of switching to a different vendor (or digital platform) is so high that the customer is essentially stuck with the original vendor. 

One example of this is Audible. Users purchase audiobooks, but they can only listen to them on the Audible app. Though the user “owns” these titles, they can’t take them to another platform. and purchasing those same titles on another platform would be expensive.

Related Article: Customer Data Management Is the Key to Consumer Trust, Profitability

Can OSIRIS Alliance Come to the Rescue? 

One response to this issue is the OSIRIS Alliance, an organization with the goal of promoting interoperability and sustainability across the web — without slowing down innovation. 

The OSIRIS Alliance was founded by Zachary Kniebel, a digital solution architect and technology consultant, and John West, former CTO and founder of Sitecore and long-term solution architect. The pair first met through the Sitecore network, said Kniebel, five-time Sitecore MVP.

The organization hopes to achieve its goals by looking at system capabilities and integrations and creating a set of digital communication standards on the “least common denominators between platforms” and packaging standards. 

“For years, I have fervently believed that the digital space was in dire need of standardization,” said Kniebel. “Every day I see partners build the same integrations over and over again, to make the same solutions out of different systems, and it’s completely unsustainable."

How the OSIRIS Alliance Got Its Start 

For the last five years, said Kniebel, he’s run the digital marketing technology side of EPAM’s digital solutions consulting group. And back in 2019, EPAM was closely involved as a founding member of the MACH Alliance.

“And so I was having daily discussions on composable architecture and best-of-breed platforms with the folks around me,” said Kniebel. “We all knew that composable architecture and best-of-breed platforms were about to significantly disrupt the digital marketing space, but … there didn’t seem to be anyone looking at how to actually ‘compose’ better, more economically and more repeatably.”

When you buy a best-of-breed solution, he said, you have to pay for the integrations — building them, maintaining them, supporting them. “It bothered me that it was the same integration over and over again, regardless of the best-of-breed platform being used.”

Eventually, he decided to come up with his own solution to the problem — but had trouble finding one he thought could actually work. Three years later, at Sitecore’s annual conference, that changed. “Conveniently,” said Kniebel, “I just so happened to be at an event with some of the best and brightest in the space. I started asking around to see what kind of support and interest there might be for creating standards for the web.”

Eventually, Kniebel got John West’s email address, wrote up a message that evening and, by morning, they had a call on the books. “A few weeks later we started the OSIRIS Alliance together,” said Kniebel.  

The Challenges of Standardizing Web-Connected Systems 

The OSIRIS Alliance has faced a few challenges in its journey to increasing interoperability between web-based platforms. 

Defining and Implementing Standards  

The biggest challenge, said Kniebel, is coming up with the right approach to defining and implementing standards repeatably, accurately and economically.

“This task was far from easy,” he said. “I tried for years to come up with a consistent and repeatable way to devise standards across a landscape of platforms as diverse as those in the digital marketing space.”

After 30 years without standardization, he added, there’s no uniform definition for a “product information management system” or “content management system” or so on.  “I found myself facing down two less-than-ideal options: either come up with a definition for each platform and a corresponding criteria model, which I tried and failed to do successfully, or find a way to standardize platforms without a definition.” 

The solution came to him when he noticed a gender-neutral “functional bathroom” for the first time at a Sitecore conference in 2022. The bathroom signs had icons that indicated what was inside — urinal, changing table, etc. — and he marveled at such a simple solution to a complex problem. “That’s when it hit me: Instead of trying to label and bucket platforms as ‘PIM’ or ‘CMS’ … I could instead standardize the business functional purpose of each communication with the platform — for example, ‘get product’ or ‘push content.’”

Navigating Digital Marketplace Politics 

The other biggest challenge the OSIRIS Alliance faces, said Kniebel, is navigating the politics in today’s digital marketplace. “The web has been working without standards for over 30 years and so individual vendors, solution implementors and partner organizations have been driving the space themselves,” he said. “We need their support in order to be able to take the OSIRIS Alliance to the next step and gain adoption.”

Fortunately, he added, there seems to be no shortage of encouragement. “The amount of interest we’ve seen has been incredible and it seems like everyone we’ve spoken to has wanted to get more involved and partner with us. But now we have to make it possible for them to take the next step with us, and that poses a new set of challenges to get our business set up in parallel to working on our first set of standards for the web.”

It’s an exciting time, he said. “And fortunately I have John, who is not only someone who has done this successfully before, but also someone who knows how to build a strong community around an idea, and that’s a huge part of what we’re hoping to do next.”

Related Article: Overcoming Customer Data Integration Challenges 

What’s Next for the OSIRIS Alliance? 

The OSIRIS Alliance is still in its infancy, said Kniebel. “We’ve been working for the past few months to ensure that we have the right support across vendors and partner organizations — something that has been a huge success for us.” 

The next steps? To start modeling the first standardized schemas for the organization’s Composable Data Interchange Standards (CDIS), the first set of composable standards for the digital marketing space.

And to build a bigger community around the idea of open standards for communication across web-connected systems. “We’re…hoping that the community itself will want to get involved with and contribute to our standards via open-source contributions and that platform vendors will provide first-party support for our standards out of the box,” said Kniebel.

In the next five years, the OSIRIS Alliance plans to have a formalized alliance board and a group of partners from key organizations in the space, he added. They’re also looking to host annual events to keep the momentum alive and moving forward.