Your Work Group has spent many months and thousands of man-hours developing a specification for the latest technology widget. The specification has been ratified and is now a standard destined to dramatically impact your industry. Member companies have reviewed the details and begun product development. However, many of these companies have come back to the Work Group with questions such as:
“How do I test the frequency – the range in this specification is too wide?” “My engineers found an edge case. I don’t see it addressed in the specification?” “Our customer is demanding second source. How can I ensure our products interoperate?”
These types of questions are often not addressed in specification development, yet have a major impact on market acceptance of the standard. How can standards bodies, product manufacturers and test equipment/service providers conquer these issues? By ensuring that a credible, independent third-party conformance assessment program is available to serve the needs of all involved.
What is ICAP? The IEEE Conformity Assessment Program (ICAP) is a joint initiative of the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and IEEE Industry Standards and Technologies Organization (IEEE-ISTO). It aims to encompass all aspects of conformity assessment, including self-declaration, third-party testing, interoperability activities, certification, and branding.
ICAP applies a three-pronged approach to conformity assessment, addressing the various needs of its constituents: a) Vendors wishing to demonstrate compliance b) Corporations or Service Providers demanding certification in order to assure and procure c) Alliances or Working Groups who want to ensure their standard is widely implemented in the market
By taking an independent and vendor-neutral role in certification and conformance assessment, ICAP develops programs designed to accelerate market adoption of new technologies, while providing end-users with confidence that products adhere and conform to industry standards.
A Unique Take on a Common Problem The need for accurate testing and definable results is not new to the high-tech industry. In fact, many companies and other entities have made a profit from testing and certification. However, some options often fail to offer a comprehensive program that meets the needs of all involved. A well-rounded approach better serves the needs of all parties.
Management Functions ICAP provides a legal and operational umbrella for the conformity assessment programs to reside beneath. Important legal items including indemnification, IP protection and contract reviews are often not considered until a situation arises. While operational functions such as alliance management, insurance, and meeting structure occur behind the scenes, glitches in any of these areas can quickly derail forward progress.
Alliances can experience fluctuations in membership, and companies will have changes in management personnel. ICAP can sustain a program when key stake holders are no longer involved or the particular work group moves on to the next standard.
Once a conformity assessment program is underway, managing the certification process (and its many moving parts) is time-consuming. From inspection to verification, certification administration is outside the scope of most organizations.
In addition to certification, ICAP is charged with helping with independent product registries, trademark creation and filings, branding, and promotional services for all constituents.
Test Functions ICAP serves as a facilitator among the various test houses, test equipment manufacturers and other accreditation services. When choosing a conformance partner, the vast number of options can seem daunting to both an alliance as well as a product manufacturer. ICAP manages the request for proposals, vets each submission and manages the selection process. This task is accomplished with complete neutrality.
Not all conformance needs are alike. ICAP evaluates the needs of the Alliance/Work Group and OEMs to determine which solution best fits the needs of the industry. Test solutions can range from an independently audited test suite to an interoperability plug-fest to a self-validation process. The key is applying a flexible approach around a rigorous framework, resulting in a valued certificate that carries the industry’s trust.
This framework is intended to create a group of “best of breed” test labs that are capable of testing to IEEE standards and have established quality systems modeled after ISO/IEC 17025. Once audited by ICAP, each test lab would be “accredited” and listed on the organization’s list of Accredited Test Labs. ICAP works with the test lab to develop the test plan, once it has been chosen for a specific conformance assessment program. The organization also offers several program management tools to the test lab, including liaison work with alliances and product manufacturers, certification management, marketing and branding. These functions are necessary but often not realized in-house at most test labs.
While ICAP offers a host of services, its role should not be confused with other accreditation organizations, nor is it a test lab. While ICAP’s roots are based in IEEE, it does not focus only on IEEE standards.
A service that provides a template for a program to enable a group of entities to form an alliance which maximises the benefits of early collaboration on a common technical standard for doing something, while steering clear of anti-trust legislation ( = restriction of fair trading).
What's not to like?
There is always a classic tension between members setting up something in which they will be competitors (if they aren't already).
I do have a problem with industry groups setting up a technical 'fortress' climbing inside and pulling up the drawbridge leaving newcomers with considerable barriers to entry. Flying an IEEE flag overhead seems to allow them to act in a way that denies the community benefits that should accrue from accreditation by a community-funded organization like the IEEE. Other members don't get any privileged access to these programs, students don't automatically get easy-entry packs to IEEE-assisted technologies.
There is always one member of these IEEE standards groups that plans to make money selling expertise and the 'magic keys' to the technology, and they plead their commercial interests would be threatened 'if just anyone could join' ( or if the standards were made too easy to understand?).
Anyone else found this to be a problem getting to grips with an IEEE-ratified technology?