By Eric Cosman
It is generally accepted that standards are an important element of the practice of automation. Developed and issued by associations of professionals in various fields of experience, standards provide specifications, practices, and guidelines that can help define the characteristics of a product, process, or service. The assertion is that following standards helps to simplify the selection and deployment of solutions and promotes device and component interoperability.
In spite of this acceptance, standards development organizations (SDOs) often struggle to recruit the expertise necessary to create meaningful and useful standards. Diversity of perspective, opinion and motivation is an important metric in assessing the effectiveness of standards committees, as well as the standards that they create. We accept that asset owners or end users may have a perspective that is different than that of product and service suppliers, although in some cases these differences have resulted in conflicts during the development of specific standards. Resolution of these conflicts can be challenging, but results in better standards.
Standards development organizations and their various committees and working groups should include an analysis of potential audience in their governance processes in order to ensure that they are addressing the most important opportunities. This analysis has to include the collection of input from a variety of stakeholder groups, including but not limited to end users, consultants, integrators and solution providers. The results of this analysis must be an important element of the proposed response. In particular, it helps to define a specific scope for the proposed standards, in terms of industry sector, technology and other parameters.
In order for such an analysis to be successful, it is essential that potential users of the standards are forthcoming with their needs and expectations. End users must clearly state their views on the value of applying standards, as well as their degree of commitment to the process. This has to extend beyond the typical “standards are good for industry” platitudes to include commitment of expert resources to represent expectations and requirements. Both large and small companies must participate in order to produce standards with the broadest possible range of applicability.
Technology and product suppliers may have an easier time in defining the business case for involvement, since it is in their best interest to foster fewer standards that reflect their capabilities, thus easing the challenge of demonstrating support and compliance. Consultants and integrators are in a similar position, in that they can show that their expertise is consistent with the requirements defined by industry standards.
Finally, those in research and academia must also contribute in order to produce standards that capture not only current capabilities, but also a look to the future. Balanced participation from each of these communities is essential, but not sufficient. It is equally important to understand the intended use of such standards by various stakeholder groups. Identification and characterization of the potential audience is essential for the development of any technical document, including standards.
Once standards are available, it is also critical that each group describe how the standards have been applied, as well as any lessons learned in the process. This can take the form of use cases or case studies, as well as training courses and certification programs. This information serves to confirm the suitability of the standards, as well as to identify areas for future enhancement. In order to remain relevant and useful standards must evolve over time. All stakeholder groups must commit to and participate in this process.
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