When a technology emerges as important or economically viable, vendors jump on the bandwagon, overwhelming the marketplace with products. Industry consortia form to forge order from chaos, but the initial impact frequently is a frustrating state of fragmentation that confuses and holds back vendors and customers alike.
Consolidation around a framework of meaningful, widely accepted standards creates market stability. The greatest value of standards is felt when an industry gathers consensus through an open, fair and equitable process and together maps the best path forward. Manufacturers gain a blueprint for building products that will be relevant across a broad swath of markets. Investment resources that might have been channeled into compliance with a panoply of standards and regulations are freed up for refining and improving the technologies themselves. Standards emerge as the avenue for controlling costs in commodity product development. Innovation is unleashed.
Perhaps nowhere is it clearer that standards have helped to enable huge global markets and deliver tremendous social benefits than in the case of the Internet. The collective work of the World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet Engineering Task Force and IEEE's 802 network-connectivity group has become recognized as the definitive source of globally relevant Internet-related standards. The Internet's development is a crystallizing example that an industry's most valuable opportunities lie in forming consensus around standards to advance innovation and grow markets.
The success story of the IEEE 802 standards illustrates the complexity of the contemporary standards life cycle. It's not just a matter of getting a standard approved. When meaningful technology innovation and market opportunity are fueled, standards approval is typically at the core of a longer life cycle of critical activities-- extending from before creation of a standard, or even a full concept, all the way through approval and market implementation--that rely on gathering consensus across an industry.
In the next two articles, we'll strive to demystify the standards-development process and look at how corporations, government agencies, academic institutions, nonprofits and industry associations can engage.
Do industry standards still matter? The question is understandable, and the answer is, undoubtedly, yes.
Steve Mills chairs the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Corporate Advisory Group. The IEEE-SA develops consensus standards through an open process that engages industry and brings together a broad stakeholder community.