Hiding In Plain Sight: The Modern Standards Paradigm

Sept. 5, 2012
There’s a significant new model for standardization occurring around the world. While it doesn’t sound earthshaking to us, it will change dramatically how standards are produced and adopted in global markets and industries.

There’s a significant new model for standardization occurring around the world. While it doesn’t sound earthshaking to us, it will change dramatically how standards are produced and adopted in global markets and industries. Enter the “modern standards paradigm” with its trade name, “OpenStand.” The operative word in this new paradigm is “market,” which I’ll explain more about later.

Bodies with national representation create many global standards. Treaties or other agreements form these bodies, and representatives from the countries that signed the treaties or agreements ratify the standards.

For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) comprises members that each represent a single country. A country is allowed one member and one vote. Each member is actually a standards organization that is deemed to be most representative of its country’s standardization efforts. You might be most familiar with ISO’s work in the area of quality management standards, known as the ISO 9000 family.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) also comprises members that represent their own countries. Each country is allowed one member and one vote. The IEC publishes standards in a wide range of fields from energy to telecommunications to semiconductors.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is an agency of the United Nations. Voting members of the ITU represent their own countries, i.e., the member states of the United Nations.  ITU is responsible for a large number of information and communication technical standards such as the international radio spectrum.

The Standard Process Evolves

The national body representation model has been effective for generations and continues to be applied to important standardization efforts that affect us all. However, the world’s rapid technological advances and the need to support emerging economies and strengthen mature economies are outpacing the ability for national-body-based standards organizations to address safety, quality, and interoperability demands. Their processes can be slow, they can hinder market growth, and they can be politically charged beyond what we’re used to seeing in the electronic design industry. (Yes, really.)

As such, global markets and industries have been forming alliances and working under standards-setting and standards-developing organizations that understand the need for standards to support industry and promote economic growth—and to do so without borders. Market-driven standards (and the much-used concept of “open” standards) are the fuel of the modern standards paradigm for global standards development. The paradigm’s OpenStand principles form the framework for an efficient, fair, and effective standardization machine.

In our industry, we’re familiar with market-driven standards. Indeed, most if not all of the standards we use in the electronic design industry are market-driven, not ratified by national body organizations that may or may not understand the needs of industry.

We’ve developed SystemVerilog, the Unified Power Format (UPF), and SystemC to name just a few. They are maintained and evolved by our familiar and respected IEEE Standards Association with the formal names IEEE Std. 1800, IEEE Std. 1801, and  IEEE Std. 1666, respectively.

These standards are a keystone to successful chip design flows and methodologies. They came from industry, were tested by industry, and now serve our industry and our end customers around the globe. They are prime examples of the execution of the modern standards paradigm.

Other standards that the world depends on daily have been created and adopted with a market-driven model. Think about the Internet standards TCP/IP, HTML, and XML. These and many other Internet standards came from and are maintained by organizations like the Internet Society (ISOC), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

These organizations’ memberships are made up of a variety of interested entities and individuals instead of countries. They have been responding to the needs of the global marketplace, following a market-driven standards model that has obviously served everyone well.

And where would we be without the ubiquitous Wi-Fi and USB? These, too, were developed with industry collaboration with global market success. Wi-Fi, officially known as IEEE Std. 802.11, is part of the IEEE Standards Association’s portfolio of international standards. The IEEE Standards Association’s membership model is open. Any interested individual or entity can participate in the development and ratification of its standards.

The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) maintains and enhances USB, which is now a household word and no longer needs to be identified as the Universal Serial Bus. It comprises companies that want to implement USB in their products with high quality for their end customers (you and me). Clearly, the USB standard is strictly market-driven and borderless. There is no concept of country boundaries for the USB-IF.

Driven By Markets

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that an essential aspect of market-driven standardization is transparency. Standards-setting and standards-developing organizations that truly care about their end customers (the product developers and their consumers) know that openness and transparency yield high-quality, widely accepted standards.

Another cardinal rule of successful market-driven standards is that their adoption needs to be voluntary. Mandating that industries must implement standards that were not developed with transparency is a risky proposition. An industry and its customers should be free to use whichever standards serve their needs the best, not ones that a national body organization decides are to be required.

Mandated standards can stifle innovation, while those that are voluntary and developed with transparency foster innovation within the industry. Voluntary, transparent standards ultimately benefit not only industry, but also society as a whole. Even safety standards fall into this realm. For instance, the nuclear power industry should be allowed to share best practices for safety beyond country borders and develop standards that encompass the best the world has to offer.

“Yes, so what?” you might be thinking by now. “Market-driven standards go without saying.” This is true in our part of the world, for our market of electronic design. Yet the national body model is still prevalent elsewhere, and the risk of mandated standards still hangs over them. As such, the standards world beyond us is going to sit up and take notice of market-driven standards as they continue to flourish. The voice of society is being heard and this influence is benefiting humanity on a global scale.

OpenStand Makes Its Mark

The first shock wave will come as word spreads of the OpenStand modern standards paradigm for global standards development. The term was coined by five worldwide standards organizations that employ market-driven standards: ISOC, IETF, IAB, W3C, and the IEEE Standards Association. They documented and endorsed the paradigm and its principles as signatories in August 2012. This concept is attracting other standards organizations and being saluted by industries and individuals with an increasing pace.

The OpenStand modern standards paradigm principles include: cooperation among SDOs; adherence to due process, broad consensus, transparency, balance, and openness in standards development; commitment to technical merit, interoperability, competition, innovation, and benefit to humanity; availability of standards to all; and voluntary adoption. These principles may seem obvious, based on common sense and embracing the best practices of standardization. Still, having them documented, distributed, and affirmed is a significant step toward global adoption and unification.

Participation in the OpenStand modern standards paradigm requires respectful cooperation between standards organizations, whereby each respects the autonomy, integrity, processes, and intellectual property rules of the others. It also requires adherence to the five fundamental principles of standards development:

  • Due process: Decisions are made with equity and fairness among participants. No one party dominates or guides standards development. Standards processes are transparent, and opportunities exist to appeal decisions. Processes for periodic standards review and updating are well defined.
  • Broad consensus: Processes allow for all views to be considered and addressed, so agreement can be found across a range of interests.
  • Transparency: Standards organizations provide advance public notice of proposed standards development activities, the scope of work to be undertaken, and conditions for participation. Easily accessible records of decisions and the materials used in reaching those decisions are provided. Public comment periods are provided before final standards approval and adoption.   
  • Balance: No particular person, company, or interest group exclusively dominates standards activities.
  • Openness: Standards processes are open to all interested and informed parties.

Furthermore, participation requires a commitment by affirming standards organizations and their participants to collective empowerment by striving for standards that:

  • are chosen and defined based on technical merit, as judged by the contributed expertise of each participant
  • provide global interoperability,  scalability, stability and resiliency
  • enable global competition
  • serve as building blocks for further innovation
  • contribute to the creation of global communities, benefiting humanity

Participation in the OpenStand paradigm also requires availability. Standards specifications are made accessible to all for implementation and deployment. Affirming standards organizations have defined procedures to develop specifications that can be implemented under fair terms.  Given market diversity, fair terms may vary from royalty-free (especially where open source is commonplace) to fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory terms (FRAND).

Finally, participation requires voluntary adoption. Standards are voluntarily adopted, and the market determines success.

What’s Next

As standards organizations are publishing endorsements backing OpenStand, they are affirming their support and adherence to its principles, and they’re heralding a new era for global standardization.

Soon, you can expect to hear more and more about the OpenStand modern standards paradigm. Exclamations of “Pay attention!” “Sign on!” and “Spread the word!” will get louder and more frequent. There will be calls to increase the number of standards organizations being welcomed into OpenStand and encouraged to affirm its principles.

Standards organizations will review and update as needed their policies and practices to ensure they match the OpenStand principles. Communication and collaboration platforms such as Web sites and social media networks will provide the means for worldwide participation and contribution.

In our own electronic design industry, we’ll nod our heads in agreement and say, “As it should be.” And we’ll watch OpenStand’s modern standards paradigm change the nature of standardization all over the world. It’s an alternate way of producing standards instead of along national boundaries that has been evolving better methods for global standards. The OpenStand approach is open, inclusive, and democratic, and it embraces technology industries’ interests worldwide for the benefit of society overall.

For more information and to become part of the OpenStand movement, go to www.open-stand.org.

About the Author

Karen Bartleson | Senior Director of Community Marketing

Karen Bartleson is the senior director of corporate programs and initiatives at Synopsys Inc. She has 30 years of experience in semiconductors, joining Synopsys in 1995 as standards manager. Her responsibilities include initiatives that increase customer satisfaction through interoperability, standards support, university relationships, and social media engagements. She also held the position of director of quality at Synopsys for three years. She was elected to become president of the IEEE Standards Association for the 2013-2014 term. She holds a BSEE from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, Calif. She was the recipient of the Marie R. Pistilli Women in Design Automation Achievement Award in 2003. Her first book, The Ten Commandments for Effective Standards, was published in May 2010.

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