Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Competetiveness and Standards

I pulled this sentence from a review I'm doing for the NIST RFI on Standards:
How do the standards impact organizations and their competitiveness?


Standards can be used competitively to provide an advantage to one group over another, or to create a level playing field for all parties.
The rest of this post explores this idea in today's context:

Replacing an existing standard is costly.  Doing so disadvantages those who have invested in the technology that standard supports.  That includes not just the implementors of those standards, but also the customers of those implementers.  Backwards compatibility is a key focus of many SDOs when they upgrade or replace their existing standards.  This ensures that the pathway to adoption of new features is made easier.

When all parties agree to the same standard, the playing field is level (or at least more level), especially when using concensus processes and governance.  When the playing field is changed, it creates a disadvantage to those who have already been playing on the existing field, often to the advantage of those who have not, as the latter have no investment to replace.

Wes Rishel's law of consensus also comes into play.  When the consensus group is changed, the consensus may also change.

Participating in consensus based standards development is expensive, mostly in terms of committed effort and travel, and to some degree, in other expenses related to participation (e.g., membership fees).  Having more places to participate is not necessarily better from the point of view of one who participates in multiple locations.  I've also found that they best way to get a consensus organization to change its behaviors is easier from inside rather than outside (I've had experience with both).

On the other hand, having other organizations working outside is a good way to get new ideas into existing SDOs.  If you've read The Innovator's Dilemma, you probably realize that you need small teams to think up new ideas.  Doing so collaboratively with existing organizations can be beneficial in that you can take advantage of some of the existing infrastructure without being burdened by all of it if the projects are set up appropriately.  HL7 has mechanisms by which other organizations can engage that may be worth persuing (e.g., through an MOU).

From the point of view of standards, more is less, and less is more.  That goes for both organizations and standards initiatives.


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