Standards are great. But do we really need so many?

by | May 10, 2021

The World Runs On Standards

Do you remember all those pictures of the Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal?  As painful as that situation was for the global supply chain, it was still impressive to see that massive vessel filled to the brim with shipping containers, not one out of place. It served as a reminder of a very important aspect of our lives that we often take for granted: standardization. The Ever Given held over 18,000 shipping containers, stacked neatly and securely on the cargo ship’s decks. Intermodal shipping containers, as they are called, represent a standard for transporting goods that allows conveyance on ships, trains, and trucks across the world. Can you imagine the challenge facing global trade if shipping containers had different dimensions in each continent, country, state, or region?  Freight operators would have to put together a jigsaw puzzle of containers at each shipping port.Shipping Containers on Ship

Of course, standards are everywhere. And aren’t you glad that railroad tracks are the same width across every state? What a nightmare it would be if we had to switch equipment at each state’s borders. It sometimes doesn’t matter what the standard itself is. For example, we measure and calculate in feet or meters, pounds or grams, liters or gallons, or hogsheads and hectares. What matters is that the standard exists so that it can be widely understood and applied by many to create a universal familiarity.


Standards Exist For A Reason

Standards ImageAlthough we celebrate uniqueness, we can all appreciate standards–whether it is shipping containers or units of measure–because they lead to greater efficiencies. For example, costs of production and delivery go down as standards allow for single implementations. Standardization also maximizes a customer’s experience due to coherent communication, repeatability, compatibility, and consistent quality.

Safety is another important aspect of standardization.  Office buildings and houses are made safer through standardized construction techniques and enforcement of building codes.  Cars are safer with standardized seat belts, airbags, roll cages, and so on; and driving them is made safer through standardization of lane markers, signs, and regulations ranging from speed limits to which side you should be driving on. The FDA imposes food safety standards.  Electricity and plumbing in our homes is safe because there are national standards for materials, construction, etc. It’s just better to have everyone on the same page.

Standards Pile-Up: Ways to Exchange Data With Other Parties

Here at Coviant Software, we help customers exchange data securely with other parties. Whether it’s patient medical information sent from a hospital to an insurance provider, a financial services firm sending and receiving market data, a small business sending ACH payments to their suppliers via their bank… or myriad other examples.  Computer networks have been used to transfer data between entities since they were invented. The first protocol to popularize file transfer is FTP, which has been standardized by RFC 959 since 1985. It became a standard for transferring files between systems, and is still widely used today.

But it is not the only standard.  The advent of the World Wide Web in the ’90s saw the use of HTTP to support file transfers. The late ’90s saw SFTP evolve from a proprietary protocol to an Internet standard. Various industries have also gone on to standardize their own file transfer protocols, like Odette FTP in the automotive industry and PeSIT in the French financial service industry. Now, there are also standard cloud-based services like AWS S3, Google Drive, Azure Files, Dropbox, and Sharefile to consider when transferring files between parties. Today’s file transfer process has become so stacked with standards that the initial function of a standard is starting to lose it’s purpose. Or more bluntly put in a statement once made by a colleague of mine a number of years ago:


“What’s so great about standards? There are so many to choose from!”


File Transfer Security And Efficiency

When it comes to your company automating file transfers, the surfeit of standards can be daunting.  You must balance many competing demands:  security, speed, responsiveness, cost-effectiveness to name a few.  Which standard is the best choice for your file transfers?Data Protection Image

Here at Coviant Software, we see a lot of file transfers, and work with many customers to balance all of those competing demands.  Our recommendation is to pick a secure, universal, and easy to implement protocol that both you and your trading partners can readily implement.  The best choice today is SFTP.  Choose that if you can (here is a recorded webinar discussing the reasons in more depth).  Our Diplomat MFT solution handles SFTP in a very easy to use fashion, with simple configuration of trading partners and even OpenPGP operations on files.  Furthermore, we realize that you are not always in control of your trading partners’ choices, so Diplomat MFT also supports numerous file transfer protocols ranging from FTP to Cloud Storage systems.

Don’t let the number of standards intimidate you.  Choose a good one, like SFTP, and try to stick with it so that you are managing operations efficiently.  But if you are required, by contract or convention, to use a different standard then make sure you are doing so with proper tooling to allow for consistency, correctness, and security.  If you need any help, please reach out to us and we would be happy to help.


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