Open Standards: Standards Organizations, how open are them? an Evaluation Methodology

IDC prepared a document for the Danish National IT and Telecom Agency (NITA) describing a methodology to evaluate Standard Setting Organizations (SSO) with regard to the degree of openness of the organization and thereby the degree of openness in their deliverables, i.e. standards.

IDC starting from the ten rights that enable open standards mentioned before, evaluated ten organizations -  CEN, Ecma, ETSI, IETF, ISO, ITU, NIST, OASIS, OMG, and W3C – and all organizations had the opportunity to review and comment on the evaluation of their organization. NITA specified 9 of Krechmer’s criteria, where the exclusion of “Open World” stems from the re-purposing of “Open Interface”, extended to covering both and accordingly renamed “Open Interoperability”.

IDC in conclusion states that there are differences between standard setting organizations in terms of “openness” and is implemented, concluding that it is difficult to make a distinction of which form of “openness” is the most appropriate.

During the process we have come to realize that the concept of “open standards” is complex and difficult to evaluate. There are a number of reasons for this – of which he following are the most important ones:

  • Standard organizations are generally aware of the need of openness because they all aim at providing successful, widely accepted standards. Accordingly, being open to influence, being consensus driven and limiting IPRs is generally part of the organizations objectives or charters.
  • The organizational culture has impact on the evaluation as well. Openness of an organization is not always clear from the documentation, and can very well be embedded in attitude, behavior and undocumented practices of the organization. An example is IETF. This organization does not have a formalized strategy of involving impaired people – still, a blind person is the Security AD and a deaf person regularly attends IETF meetings.
  • Related to the above is the fact that the degrees of formalization vary from organization to organization – which entails that the level of documentation varies as well. In other words, some organizations are more inclined to rely on best practices over formal guidelines and procedures. This means – in the context of this study – that the access to documented information has been easier for some organization than others.

As a result, while the concept of “openness” is central in the development of tandards, this concept has been implemented in different ways in different standard setting organizations which renders comparisons difficult. None the less, it seems to
be a general tendency that compliance with openness in one area results in more control in other areas, e.g. it very often involves trade-offs ere are two common trade-offs that is discovered through the research:

  • Some organizations have front-end openness in terms of allowing wide and free participation in the process of defining a standard (for example W3C and IETF). These organizations then balance this by supplementing their democratic voting process with a back-end control in terms of a director being able to say “yes” or “no” to a standard. Other organizations are more restricted in the front-end participation (OMG, ITU, ISO), but the decision on standards are then made exclusively through a formal voting process.
  • Some organizations have free membership or low membership fees (for example IETF) and therefore limited funding abilities. This means fewer activities in cost intensive areas like interoperability testing and conformance. Other organizations have a strong funding foundation from members (OMG, ISO) and can therefore engage in more supporting activities such as interoperability testing.

Looking at the ten organizations researched in this project there are differences in the umber of requirements in which they score positive. It is difficult to see any clear atterns in the ratings though, as they all meet their own disjoint subset of

In conclusion there are both similarities and differences between standard setting rganizations. They all have high scores in the questions about consensus and open hange and they all have focus on “openness” in their strategies. However, there are ifferences between standard setting organizations in terms of “openness” and certainly in terms of how “openness” is implemented. It can be difficult to make a istinction of which form of “openness” is the most appropriate.

Read the full paper.

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