Standards: Lean, Mean, or Pointless?

By: Catherine Michel

Who Cares?

Collective groan. In trying to keep pace with technology evolution and agile development, when one hears “standards” one automatically thinks: pointless bureaucracy. And frameworks? Useless job aids.

But it needn’t be that way. It can’t be that way. In our increasingly connected world (a la apps, M2M, over-the-top services, and so forth) standards and frameworks are ever more critical. They are easily the fastest way in which an independent capability becomes interoperable with the supporting infrastructure. Think Apple and its App Store, or utility companies and smart metering, grid and home.

Without a published standard in which developers of such functions could connect to the backbone of, and devices within, these networks, capabilities would be limited to the internal R&D of the networks or device providers. Or, costly investment would be wasted working through the kinks of technical incompatibilities. 

Instead, open standards and frameworks enable an exponential community of new ideas to become a reality overnight—and turned into revenue the next day.

On the contrary, the challenge, then, is not the presence of standards and frameworks but the glacier-like pace in which they are typically established and evolve, and deciding who is actually responsible for them.

A common approach is for industry standards bodies to form to become the common reference point. But that is when the trouble can start, particularly when competing technologies have already taken hold. Over time contributors lose sight of the greater goal and get lost in the minutiae (though I’m not saying all minutiae is unimportant). Time drags on, and the standards become irrelevant rather than enabling.

So what approach works? Does a company strike out on its own and hope to match the power of Apple? Do like-minded companies forego the standards bodies and establish a collective agreement directly? Do the standards bodies trim the fat and stay agile like the rest of the industry?

The key is getting to and adopting the right standards quickly, then keeping them relevant with the pace of innovation.


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