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.

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