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April 14th, 2006: Independent is not the same as Neutral


Standardisation is a process to get allround accepted rules and regulations on all kinds of subjects. Usually standards are made by people from organisations who have knowledge about the subject of the standard or have a stake in exploiting products and services conforming to the standard.

A standard is nearly always developed after products and services are in the marketplace. To change such an existing product or service to conform to the standard may cost a large amount of money. One not only has to change the product or service, you also have to change the implementations. For that reason vendors of products and services are very aware the standard should not be very different from their implementation because of the cost of these changes.

Developing a neutral standard means a group including a number of vendors is trying to write a standard where each of there views, products and services are kept as much as possible. This is done to minimise cost as much as possible.

Another way to develop a standard or to agree on ways to do things is on a professional basis. This would lead to an independent development of a standard.

From practice:

  • Standards are not developed before there are already products and services on the market. One reason is that the necessity of a standard becomes clear because of these products and services. Another reason is the time that is needed to develop a standard: it may take years and companies are usually not going to wait and stand by to get the profits of the standard by putting products and services on the market for them. For this reason nearly every standard is developed on a neutral basis.
  • Users of products and services conforming to a standard do not benefit from neutrally developed standards because these standards (and therefore the products and services) usually contain trade-offs regarding professional rules and principles.
  • If a vendor puts forward an internal concept, product or service forward as a standard, this is to be seen as a neutral standard. Such a concept is usually developed with the market in mind, and therefore will fit optimally to the range of products and services this vendor puts to the marketplace. Therefore such a standard can NEVER be an independent development.

These observations are true for industry standards as well as for international standards from organisations as ISO.


Neutral or Independent management of a standard

A standard usually develops itself in time. New notions are put forward, certain points need to be changed and text has to be updated. This is true for any standard, whether it is a neutral development or not.

One may chose for neutral management (for instance by groups of one or more vendors like the Open Group, IBM or NAF) or for independent management (like ISO or another market independent body, usually professional body):

  • Neutral management. For the same reason as above: this will usually lead to a large political "circus" that will have to decide on the development and change of the standard. Again, due to the interest vendors have in the implementation of the standard this is not the best way to go.
  • Independent management. This is a difficult way to manage because it usually is not possible keep parties with interests out of these groups. But in fact it is the only way to do it right.


From practice: standards are developed on a neutral basis and are management in a neutral group. To do a better job, this ought to be changed. This can only be done if non-vendor communities take charge of both processes. It will take time and money, but it will also be the basis for the products and services they really need.

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