On a daily basis, our lives are impacted by established formulas distilled from the collective wisdom of technical experts that affect a wide range of activities including, but not limited to, how we educate our children, manufacture products, impact the environment, supply materials, deliver services, regulate safety, privacy, and security, and monitor our health. These formulas are generally referred to as “standards.”
Even if someone has not heard of standards, they have none the less benefited from their outcomes through enhanced design, development, and service technologies. Yet for most people, standards development processes are semi-invisible, despite being a critical element of thousands of regulations threaded across all areas of modern society. Occasionally they come into the light, such as when the US Department of Education endorsed the Common Core State Standards Initiative, but most of us live our lives oblivious to their existence, value, or impact. In this post, the first in a series about standards, I’ll share my thoughts on the value of standards and on innovative approaches taken by standards development organizations, or SDOs.
Standards are synonymous with rules, regulations, criterion, benchmarks, rubrics, or metrics. Society would not operate as we know if not for these mutually agreed upon best practices and technical specifications. Standards have been crucial for advancing manufacturing and technology development during each previous industrial revolution.
The digital evolution driven by Industrial Revolution 4.0 requires extensive enhancements and innovations. These in turn affect current applications, systems, and operations and surpass conventional processes – all of which are guided by standards. Each technological iteration requires users to adopt new modalities to fully realize the benefits afforded by each turn of the evolutionary cycle. This has never been truer than with the advances of smart manufacturing and autonomous systems, data-driven enterprises, artificial intelligence initiatives, machine learning, the Internet of Things (I0T), etc.
To meet these “future of” business opportunities, industries across the board are currently transforming to serve ever-changing global markets and needs, which in turn requires developers to accelerate the pace for delivering technological advancements, product designs, R&D, and product developments to “future proof” businesses. According to Tatiana Khayrullina, Consulting Partner for Standards and Technical Solutions, Outsell Inc:
“The concepts of “content” and “data” are converging, and new formats (e.g., video, audio) are becoming more dominant. At the same time, reproducible results are becoming more and more important.”
Regardless of industry, users desire greater accessibility to SDO content with a growing desire to integrate and /or aggregate standards data into their own proprietary end products. Should SDOs acquiesce, could we be on the verge of realizing tomorrow’s future, today?
Simon Klaris Friberg, Senior Librarian/Information Consultant at Rambøll, an engineering consultancy headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark, argues that the evolution of standards requires altering the current “document centric” approach.
“It’s very much still a traditional sort of paper-based use and not materially different from that conducted in generations past. References to standards content are framed in the paper world – with pages, footnotes, paragraphs, and sections, despite the content existing in PDF and XML format online. As a 21st century engineering organization, Rambøll and its engineers are coming to see a need to move to a more content centric use of standards content.”
Achieving this level of accessibility would require SDOs to transverse the barriers confronting the end users; in turn requiring the SDOs and other developers, along with intermediary distributors, to significantly expand the access to and interconnectivity of standards data. (Friberg 2022)
Based on my interaction with SDOs, I’m seeing differing comfort levels as they consider and identify how best to engage with current and new customers as Industrial Revolution 4.0 content providers. They’re seeking ways to bridge the growing gap between the practical considerations surrounding standards development and their customers’ rapidly evolving data needs and contemporary manufacturing / supply-chain realities.
Those SDOs with the greatest potential to lead in the face of growing global market sophistication are transforming their capabilities from document-centric models into transparent, open access models that allow for on-going operational process, infrastructure, and technology improvements and upgrades.
Concurrently, these SDOs are carefully managing the practicalities of their own industry, including achieving content management efficiency, adapting pricing models, monitoring cybersecurity, defining, and licensing digital assets, adhering to legislation compliance, policing piracy, protecting copyright and intellectual property, maintaining technological relevancy, meeting mandated availability requirements, and addressing the impact and expectations of native users. Their active contemplation and development of new “use case” strategies require greater cooperation and collaboration among users, distributors, publishers, and other SDOs. For these organizations, “because we have always done it this way” is no longer an operational mantra.
In my next post, I’ll share my observations about SDO efforts to preserve the uniqueness of standards while moving move their organizations and their industry forward.