Wednesday, 24 September 2008

The new IBM principles for IT standardisation: day 2

It has been an exciting day after IBM's announcement on our new standards policy yesterday. I got several reactions from people asking for more information, what the announcement means, why IBM is doing it etc. And I got some reactions of concern that IBM, as part of the press wrongly put it, is going to withdraw from standardisation and to leave standards organisations.

To be very clear: the new IBM IT standards policy is above all a reconfirmation on the importance of standards and of IBM's commitment to the development and the implementation of standards. Yet, we will be less willing to accept just anything that calls itself a standard. We will much more be concerned about processes, about openness and transparency, and about the availability of standards for implementation.

And to be equally clear: the new IBM IT standards policy is not about leaving any standards organisations. We will look at processes more carefully, will more proactively ask for improvements, drive discussions about how to improve the overall quality of standards and standardisation. As Bob Sutor put it in his blog:

IBM belongs to many, many fine standards organizations and we look forward to long and productive relationships with them. These organizations and their work are strategic to IBM’s business and the products and services it offers to its customers. IBM is proud to be a member of these groups. [....]

With this principle, IBM is saying that it will increasingly look more closely at issues like the openness and transparency of a standards organization, as well as the modernness and consistency of the processes and intellectual property rules. IBM did so before, but it will do more in the future. IBM will sharpen and communicate its criteria to those involved in a cooperative manner.

Notwithstanding the various sexy headlines I’ve seen today, leaving a standards group would be a last resort. Though IBM is but one company, it hopes to use its experience to help resolve problems that are found in a constructive and collegial way, before the situation becomes too dire.

So no need to be concerned. IBM will be committed to standards, which is: open standards, as strong as we used to be. And this commitment will from now on be based on a set of principles, clearly worded, clearly and publicly communicated.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Better standards, better processes, better quality

IBM released today it's new IT standards policy. It focuses on openness and the quality of standards. The main objective is described in following way:

IBM's new standards policy promotes simplified and consistent intellectual property practices, and emphasizes that all stakeholders, including the open source community and those in growth markets, should have equal footing as they participate in the standards process.

The new principles for participation in standards organisations were derived out of a standards jam held over the summer with a large group of participants from industry, academia, governments, etc. A summary of this jam session is also available online.

Being part of IBM's global standards team, I am, of course, curious how this announcement and the publication of the principles will be perceived. Initial reactions from the press are already out. I even got some first e-mails from colleagues asking for more information. So there is some good first indication that the clear position IBM takes in this announcement creates interest and gains momentum.

I believe that these new principles and the clear position taken on processes and practices has the potential to stir some good discussions around standardisation. And discussion, actions towards change and improvement are essential. Standardisation has been abused in several instances in the past years. And a lot of confusion has been created around the development and the use of the term "standard", including nasty beasts like "proprietary standards" and "de facto standards" as well as arguing in favour of competing and/or multiple standards because they were, some say, essential for innovation. To be blunt: all of this happened because some wanted to better meet their vested business interests.

It is, therefore, high time for clear decisions to ensure that standardisation will, in a way, get back to its roots, yet on a higher level, matching the requirements and utilising the opportunities of the age of the internet, e.g. in terms of openness and transparency.

The new IBM principles are meant to help a bit in driving the discussion around standards into this directions and moving towards the respective consequences in the standards ecosystem. We don't need more confusion and abuse in standardisation; we need good standards that meet the needs of industry and users, of governments and society.

This is what is expressed in the introductory statement to the announcement; it is intended

To Encourage Improved Tech Standards Quality and Transparency, and Promote Equal Participation of Growth Markets in Globally Integrated Economy

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Importance of Open Standards – Part I

It may well be the most debated term since the rise of standardisation: “Open Standard”. I recently gave a couple of presentations on the needs for and benefits of open standards for industry, for innovation, growth, competitiveness, fair competition etc.

There are several people, organisations and groups that would prefer to get rid of the term open standard. They argue that it is confusing, not properly defined, etc. Needless to say that they have got vested interests to say so because, for one reason or another, they don't like or can't adopt to the concept of opennes and open standards.

In the following couple of weeks I will elaborate a bit on the importance of open standards, of the concept of open standards and its benefits. So here's Part I:

The concept of openness and open standards

Open standards is not just a term for some specific type of standardisation deliverable. It denotes a concept. A concept that takes into account both the development process of a standard as well as the terms and conditions of its availability for accessing and implementing. And the fact that open standard is a concept makes it very powerful and at the same time threatening to some.

The concept of open standards is, to some extend, also a reaction to the terminology-babel in standardisation. The term standard itself has got a number of different connotations. For some a standard can only be developed by formally recognised international, European or national standards bodies (ISO, IEC, ITU, ETSI, CEN, Cenelec, DIN, BSI, ANSI etc.). Others have abused the term standard by creating such ugly beasts as “de facto standards” or “proprietary standards” which is almost a contradiction in itself. Again others have completely avoided the term standard and use all kinds of expressions, e.g. Recommendation, RFC, Specification.

On the other hand, and most notably, the concept of open standards drives the world of standardisation towards the comparatively new paradigm of openness, mostly accelerated by the world wide web where openness is the key underlying principle. Open collaboration, open innovation are all concepts in succession of the revolution the internet has created. Companies and organisations are about to find a new equilibrium between proprietary and open – both accommodating to the new world and taking benefit of it. Open standards as well as the open source movement are major elements of this entire new ecosystem.

Given all that, it is not surprising that the concept of open standards is subject to a huge and controversial debate. It is, in fact, part of a broader change process in industry and society. And as always such change processes give rise to those who are ready to embrace the change and to move along with it as well as those who are afraid of change, not yet ready, haven't yet adopted their strategy to the characteristics of the new environment.

Yet, pretending that the changes don't exist, that the new paradigm of openness was not catching enormous momentum, doesn't help, by no means, and is nothing more but a big self-deception. Likewise open standards are a reality. The concept is gaining momentum and is increasingly being adopted throughout. And it has got huge benefits and a valid role to play in the new world of global standardisation.

Hello World - out of a high speed train

You know I travel across Europe from time to time. Whenever possible I like to use the train, because it's convenient, because you don't need to undress before boarding, etc. I am actually in the Thalys this point in time travelling back home from Brussels. And what's great: I have got free wireless access even though I am crossing borders and even though the train runs at 200 to 250 km/h. This is fantastic. It increases my productivity and allows me, for instance, to post this blog post saying "Hi" to everyone after I had been on vacation and travelling for quite a while.