Some Inadequacies in ICT Standardisation



A somewhat ‘naïve’ view of standards setting would comprise of all stakeholders discussing the technical issue in question on equal terms, compromising, finding a consensus, and eventually passing the standard. Unfortunately, reality looks slightly different. This presentation will highlight some aspects of the process where improvements would be beneficial.
Most working groups of ICT Standards Developing Organisations (SDOs) are primarily populated by representatives of large vendors and service providers. Given the considerable costs (in terms of both time and money) associated with standards setting, this is not exactly a big surprise. However, the situation is less than desirable. For one, important stakeholders such as Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), and ‘user companies’ (i.e., those who do not build IT systems, but just install and deploy them), are at risk of being marginalised. Yet, these stakeholders’ input would in many cases considerably contribute to more useful and usable standards.
Therefore, I will first briefly discuss the state of the art in terms of SME participation in standards setting. This will largely be based on a survey of working group members and SDOs. A number of recommendations will be discussed that could lead to a higher level of SME participation. Moving on to the issue of (increased) user participation in ICT standardisation, I will look at the various barriers that have been erected – deliberately or involuntarily – by both the working group members and the standards bodies. Yet, SDOs have always been quite keen to increase the number of users among their respective membership base. However, just having more user representatives participate in working groups will not necessarily lead to any positive outcome. This is due to various reasons that relate to the role of users in ICT standardisation, the heterogeneity of the user community, and mismatches between the timelines of standardisation and deployment of a technology, respectively. These aspects, and the links between them, will be discussed.
Several current initiatives suggest that a closer link between research and standardisation would be highly beneficial. I will, therefore, briefly address some recent findings that led to suggestions on how this link could be strengthened. Major problems here include, among others, a lack of funding, very inadequate mutual information, and missing incentives for researchers to become active in standards setting. Organisations active in research, standards bodies, as well as research funding organisations need to become active here. Recommendations on what could be done will be presented and discussed.
Finally, I will have a look at an aspect of the outcome of the standards setting process. Recently, ‘Open Standards’ has become a minor buzzword. Yet, what exactly characterises an open standard is still far from being clear. Unfortunately, the quest for a precise definition here is not just an academic exercise, but may have major economic and legal ramifications, as both public procurement and European Directives may require use of open standards. I will introduce the two ‘opposing’ types of definition that exist, and discuss some consequences of their respective application. 
Contact information:
Prof.dr. S.L. van de Velde