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13 Ways of Looking at a Flawed Process: JTC1 Recommends Process Reforms

OpenDocument and OOXML

I  Among twenty snowy mountains/ The only moving thing/ Was the eye of the black bird.

II  
I was of three minds/ Like a tree/ In which there are three blackbirds...

V  I do not know which to prefer/ The beauty of inflections/  Or the beauty of innuendoes,/ The blackbird whistling/ Or just after...
                    Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, 1917

Although much of the brouhaha of the OOXML adoption process has abated, the post-partum process of reviewing how Joint Technical Committee One (JTC1), the ISO/IEC body that gave birth to both ISO/IEC 26300 (ODF) and OXMLISO/IEC IS 29500 (OOXML), continues.  More specifically, meetings continue to be held in which a variety of related matters are being considered, including the ongoing maintenance of each standard, and whether and how the Directives that control the deliberations of JTC1 committees might profitably be amended to address the concerns that arose during the consideration of these two overlapping document format standards.

Most recently, representatives of JTC1 and the
SWG Directives committee met in Nara (JTC1) and Osaka (SWG), Japan to review these weighty matters.  As has been the case in the past, a variety of those directly involved in the ODF/OOXML saga wrote about the results of this latest meeting, including three bloggers who attended the Ballot Resolution Meeting that served as the climax of the OOXML adoptive process: Alex Brown, Rick Jelliffe and Tim Bray.  You can find their alternately contrapuntal and contrary observations here, here and here, respectively.  I did not attend the gathering in Nara, but I have read the recommendations made at that meeting (as well as Alex's, Rick's and Tim's commentaries on them), and ruminated a bit on the recommendations and the events that inspired them.  Here is my own sense of what others have also observed. 

First, let me note that the meetings apparently covered quite a bit of useful ground, although the publicly available report is, as usual, brief.  Rick Jelliffe includes a summary of the results in his blog entry and then focuses primarily on two issues: progress made in harmonizing expectations and actions between OASIS and JTC1 on ODF maintenance, and an inconclusive recommendation made regarding the issue of when more than one ISO/IEC standard to the same purpose should be permissible. Alex Brown also focuses on the ODF/JTC1 maintenance progress made (a topic that he has written about before, most recently here).  He also lobs a few recreational grenades at one of his favorite targets (a/k/a, in his words, the "tinfoil hat brigade"), which in turn inspired a cry of foul from Tim Bray.  Comment threads follow at Rick's and Alex's blog entries (including posts by all three authors). 

For those in withdrawal following the end of the presidential election in the US, you may find an hour or two's relief picking apart this tangled skein of sense and sensibility, pride and prejudice.  And, of course, you might want to see the official report of the meeting, which can be found here, and which is also pasted in below.  The lengthy Resolutions Document (there were 53 resolutions adopted in all) can be found here (although only two resolutions, pasted in at the end of this blog entry, relate to ODF and OOXML).

So with all of that said, here is what caught my eye as I peered through the barbaric glass at this latest wintry scene:

1.  Standards Maintenance:  Alex Brown rightly finds fault in the Directives.  He also assumes good intentions now on both sides as regards coming to an acceptable agreement between OASIS and JTC1 on ODF maintenance (this is a happy development, as earlier there were concerns on the ODF side over whether JTC1 was trying to take over complete control of ODF, and on the JTC1 side, over whether OASIS was addressing error requests quickly enough).  But I think that this narrow focus on the Directives misses a bigger picture, which is that neither the PAS nor the Fast Track process works well for consortium standards at all in the first instance.  While I was not personally involved in the negotiation of any past or present understandings between OASIS and JTC1 relating to ODF, I have been involved in the submission of other standards under the PAS process, and have found that process to be ill defined, inflexible, and (worst of all) glacial. 

Moreover, the costs and time required to prepare a standard for submission are very high, requiring the scarce and quite expensive services of professionals skilled in that craft.  For many consortia, this expense is prohibitive.  Other issues relate to whether handing over control of a standard that must continue to evolve rapidly will meet market demands.  One would think that by now, a well-defined set of procedures would be in place to negotiate maintenance issues at the time of submission, but this does not appear to be the case.

Considering that ODF has already progressed from the OASIS version 1.0 that was originally submitted to JTC1 to OASIS version 1.1 (and indeed version 1.2 is now nearing completion), concerns over errata in version 1.0 appear almost quaint.  As between the formally adopted ISO/IEC standard and the most current, fully-featured version of what is, after all, a tool and not an end in itself, the marketplace will clearly utilize the latter.  What is needed, in my view, is for the entire interrelation of consortia and JTC1 to be reviewed in order to develop a more flexible, responsive, and nimble way for these two worlds to efficiently collaborate, allowing a single, most accurate, and most state of the art standard to be available to those that would implement it.

2.  BRM Reform:  Recommendation 5 from the Nara meeting addresses issues encountered at the OOXML BRM.  As I did not participate in the meeting in Nara, I can't speak to why various elements came out as they did.  As a result, I am both startled and dismayed at what is, and what is not, included in the recommendation. 

Some of what appears simply restates what I would have assumed was already the rule: that participants should represent their National Bodies and their positions and not (presumably) those of their employers.  Other elements would institutionalize judgments made with respect to the Geneva BRM that were questioned by some, while others would go further.  For example, at the BRM, all National Bodies that voted, and not only those that had appended comments to their votes, attended.  The recommendation would permit all those that were eligible to vote to attend the BRM, regardless of whether they had in fact exercised their franchise to cast a ballot.  Such inclusivity sounds wholesome, until one remembers that the BRM was limited to 120 participants.  Could such an attendance limit be applied in the future, and if so, what would the impact on the quality of the outcome be if anyone, regardless of whether they had previously spent time to understand the standard under review, could "bump" someone with deep familiarity?

I am also troubled by the following elements of this recommendation:

7) The Project Editor must prepare an Editor’s proposed disposition of ballot comments in sufficient time prior to the BRM to allow consideration by National Bodies. This editor’s proposed disposition of comments document will be reviewed during the ballot resolution meeting

8) A disposition of ballot comments approved during the meeting must be circulated following the meeting for the information of all National Bodies

9) When all comments have been addressed and a disposition of comments has been approved by the meeting, the BRM meeting criteria have been met

Why troubled?  Because these elements, when added to those that come before, basically add up to a ratification of the conduct of the Geneva BRM.  To my reading, not one single element of Recommendation 5 addresses any of the concerns raised relating to the BRM - the voting procedures adopted, the amount of time to be provided in advance to consider proposed dispositions, or the timing of the delivery of a complete specification prior to a vote (admittedly this last element is beyond the scope of the BRM itself, but this concern could have been the subject of a further recommendation).

Most startling to me is the third element of the BRM recommendation:

3) The comments must be discussed within a single meeting and NOT distributed over a series of meetings

Hello? This would make sense if another recommendation was to preclude hastily prepared, 6,000 page specifications from being admitted to the Fast Track and PAS processes, but absent that constraint, a single meeting rule would seem to guarantee the type of shallow review undertaken in Geneva.  I would be very interested in hearing the thinking behind this recommendation from Alex or another attendee at the Nara meeting, as it completely escapes me.

More broadly, I would be delighted to learn more about the genesis of Recommendation 5 and the discussions that lay behind it.  Did anyone ask for more?  To my reading, rather than performing a serious review of what went wrong in Geneva, the SWG Directives committee has asked that the manner in which that BRM was conducted be institutionalized as the roadmap for the future.  The most neutral way I can describe my reaction to such a request is as one of dismay.

3.  The "one standard" rule:  The Resolutions Document issued in connection with the meeting includes only a few resolutions relating to ODF and OOXML (I've pasted them in at the end of this blog entry).  One of those resolutions touches on the complex question of when more than one standard is desirable for a single purpose.  The resolution is worth reviewing in full, and reads as follows:

Resolution 49 – Clarification on Consistency of Standards vs Competing Specifications

JTC 1 notes the nature of standardization is to attract innovative ideas from multiple sources, choose the best ones and codify them in specifications that facilitate widespread use. Further, consistent with ISO’s and IEC’s "one standard" principle (for example TMB’s policy and principle statement on Global Relevance), there are times when one standard is all that is required to meet the needs of the marketplace, especially in a particular application area, and there are other instances where multiple standards make the most sense to respond to market requirements and to the needs of our society. In reducing the number of alternatives to a reasonable minimum, JTC 1 and other SDOs have demonstrated that it is not necessary and may not be desirable to choose only one alternative or option for standardization.

Further, JTC 1 notes that the cycle of innovation in the ICT sector has resulted in the continuous introduction of new technologies that improve upon existing standards. Any attempt to choose only one standard would ignore and threaten to inhibit the cycle of innovation that continues to fuel this industry. Therefore, JTC 1 recognizes its commitment to ISO’s and IEC’s "one standard" principle; however, it recognizes that neither it nor its SCs are in a position to mandate either the creation or the use of a single standard, and that there are times when multiple standards make the most sense in order to respond to the needs of the marketplace and of society at large. It is not practical to define, a priori, criteria for making these decisions. Therefore each standard must be judged by the National Bodies, based on their markets, on its own merits.

The resolution (which was adopted unanimously) is a fair review of a difficult topic.  The bottom line effect of the resolution, however, when reviewed in the context of the OOXML process, is that there will apparently be no impediment in the future to the adoption of overlapping, and even totally duplicative standards by JTC1.  The OOXML process would seem to demonstrate that, absent an impartial review of such questions at the beginning of the submission process, a vigorously promoted standard will likely always ultimately be adopted.

ISO/IEC need not, of course, assume responsibility for acting as the guardian at the gate to prevent the adoption of duplicative standards.  The important lesson for stakeholders (such as governments) to take away, however, is to keep a sharp focus on what ISO/IEC adoption does, and does not, mean. 

As the OOXML process, the statements made by ISO and IEC, and now these recommendations and resolutions abundantly demonstrate, what ISO/IEC JTC1 seeks to provide is a process and a setting within which specifications can be considered for adoption - and not a guarantee of any particular quality of outcome.  More specifically, there is no warranty that a standard will not be duplicative, will be of consistent or minimum quality - or that its final text will even be available to review before it is voted upon.

Perhaps a better way could be found within a new process, hosted by a new organization, that is concerned with the quality, as well as quantity, of the standards it adopts.

 

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

sign up for a free subscription to Standards Today today!
 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Recommendation 1:

The SWG-Directives recommends that a meeting report of all future SWG-Directives
teleconferences be posted to the JTC 1 document register as a formal N-numbered
document.

Approved

Recommendation 2:

The SWG-Directives recommends that one week prior to a SWG-Directives related
teleconference, the SWG-Directives Secretary or relevant Ad Hoc Convener issue a
reminder (including joining instructions) to the SWG- Directives or ad hoc members.

Approved

Recommendation 3:

The SWG-Directives instructs the JTC 1 Secretariat and Chairman to issue the final
agenda for the 23-27 February 2009 meeting in Delft, Netherlands no later than 6
February 2009. Any contributions received after 4 February 2009 will be placed on a
subsequent agenda of the SWG-Directives. Multiple comment submissions by
National Bodies are allowed, or even encouraged if it allows comments to be
submitted at an earlier date.

The SWG-Directives confirms that it will meet 20-24 July 2009 in Berlin, Germany.

Approved

Recommendation 4:

The SWG-Directives instructs the SWG-Directives secretary to incorporate the
following concepts in the draft of the JTC 1 Supplement to be issued for National
Body comment:

1) To use and align the JTC 1 fast track process with ISO/IEC fast track process
augmenting the ISO/IEC process to meet JTC 1 unique needs

2) To eliminate constraints on the types of comments (technical; editorial)
National Bodies can submit with their votes

3) That the fast track process shall apply only to standards and NOT to
amendments. Amendments shall follow the “normal” amendment process

4) That an explanatory report similar to the PAS explanatory report shall
accompany a fast track submission

5) That the text of document N9309 (as amended by France) be included
Approved

Recommendation 5:

The SWG-Directives instructs the SWG-Directives secretary to incorporate the
following concepts (with more specific detail) in the draft of the JTC 1 Supplement to
be issued for National Body comment:

Operating under the ISO/IEC Fast Track process, the SWG-Directives agrees that if a
Ballot Resolution Meeting is necessary:

1) The purpose is to review and address ballot comments

2) The meeting must have a separate agenda and be convened as a separate
meeting even if it is in conjunction with/co-located with an SC/WG meeting

3) The comments must be discussed within a single meeting and NOT
distributed over a series of meetings

4) The meeting is open to the Fast track Submitter and to all National Bodies
regardless of whether or not the National Body has voted on the document
under review – no limitation on which National Body can participate

5) The meeting participants represent their National Body and their National
Body positions

6) All National Bodies have an equal say in any decisions made during the
meeting

7) The Project Editor must prepare an Editor’s proposed disposition of ballot
comments in sufficient time prior to the BRM to allow consideration by
National Bodies. This editor’s proposed disposition of comments document
will be reviewed during the ballot resolution meeting

8) A disposition of ballot comments approved during the meeting must be
circulated following the meeting for the information of all National Bodies

9) When all comments have been addressed and a disposition of comments has
been approved by the meeting, the BRM meeting criteria have been met

Approved

Appreciations:

Resolution A:

The SWG-Directives expresses its appreciation to the National Body of Japan for
inviting the SWG to Osaka and for the meeting facilities, lunches and refreshments.
The SWG-Directives wishes to especially thank Akio Kido and Yoshihisa Narui for
their assistance in planning and supporting the meeting.

Acclamation

Resolution B:

The SWG-Directives expresses its appreciation to its Convener, Mr. Scott Jameson,
for his leadership during the meeting and throughout his tenure as SWG-Directives
Convener. The group has benefited greatly from his guidance and expertise and we
wish him well in his future endeavors.

Acclamation

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34
Document Description and Processing Languages
Secretariat: Japan (JISC)

Document Type: Meeting Resolutions

Document Title: Recommendations from the November 2008 JTC 1 SWG-Directives Meeting
in Osaka

Document Source: SWG-D Secretary

Reference: This is document is circulated to National Bodies for information.
Action ID: FYI

Resolution 13 – Cooperation Between SC 34 and OASIS on Maintenance of ODF/ISO/IEC 26300

a) JTC 1 recognizes the timely response (JTC 1 N9398) from OASIS to the SC 34 liaison statement (SC34 N1095/JTC 1 N9416), and thanks OASIS for the new draft errata to ODF 1.0. JTC 1 particularly welcomes OASIS's proposal to confer with JTC 1 and SC 34 to forge a genuine partnership for collaboratively handling the maintenance of ODF/IS 26300. JTC 1 requests SC 34 and OASIS to develop a document specifying the detailed operation of joint maintenance procedures, with a common goal of preparation of technically–equivalent documents, and taking into account the requirements and constraints of both standards bodies. SC 34 is requested to consider this document at its March 2009 plenary and report the results to JTC 1 following this meeting. b) JTC 1 instructs its Secretariat to forward the principles contained in document N9384 to OASIS and to the SWG–Directives for information and consideration.

Objection: Netherlands

Resolution 49 – Clarification on Consistency of Standards vs Competing Specifications

JTC 1 notes the nature of standardization is to attract innovative ideas from multiple sources, choose the best ones and codify them in specifications that facilitate widespread use. Further, consistent with ISO’s and IEC’s "one standard" principle (for example TMB’s policy and principle statement on Global Relevance), there are times when one standard is all that is required to meet the needs of the marketplace, especially in a particular application area, and there are other instances where multiple standards make the most sense to respond to market requirements and to the needs of our society. In reducing the number of alternatives to a reasonable minimum, JTC 1 and other SDOs have demonstrated that it is not necessary and may not be desirable to choose only one alternative or option for standardization.

Further, JTC 1 notes that the cycle of innovation in the ICT sector has resulted in the continuous introduction of new technologies that improve upon existing standards. Any attempt to choose only one standard would ignore and threaten to inhibit the cycle of innovation that continues to fuel this industry. Therefore, JTC 1 recognizes its commitment to ISO’s and IEC’s "one standard" principle; however, it recognizes that neither it nor its SCs are in a position to mandate either the creation or the use of a single standard, and that there are times when multiple standards make the most sense in order to respond to the needs of the marketplace and of society at large. It is not practical to define, a priori, criteria for making these decisions. Therefore each standard must be judged by the National Bodies, based on their markets, on its own merits.

Unanimous

 

13 Ways of Looking at a Flawed Process: JTC1 Recommends Process Reforms | 5 comments | Create New Account
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7 ways of looking at a flawed blog post
Authored by: Alex Brown on Sunday, November 23 2008 @ 11:45 PM CST
Andy hi

It's great to start out with some Wallace Stevens - really raises the tone!

Here are some factual corrections. I'll put together some opinions for a separate comment later ...

  1. Your title “SC 34 recommends JTC 1 reforms” is incorrect. SC 34 has made no recommendations for altering JTC 1 process, and has no authority so to do (it is, after all, a mere subcommittee – “SC” – of JTC 1).
  2. You state SC 34 holds meetings to consider “whether and how the Directives that control the deliberations of JTC1 committees might profitably be amended”, but for the reason stated above it does not – it has no authority.
  3. You refer to “how SC 34 gave birth to IS 29500” – yet SC 34 was not the mother, and never formally discussed this specification until after it was approved as an International Standard. It was JTC 1 that gave birth to IS 29500 (it was a JTC 1 ballot, and JTC 1 members attended the BRM: this is a larger and more senior committee than SC 34).
  4. I was not in Nara.
  5. You state “ODF has already progressed […] to OASIS version 1.1 and now 1.2” – yet 1.2 is still being drafted and so does not exist as a standard of any kind.
  6. I’m not sure if you picked this up but your reference to “the Nara meeting” makes me suspect not – there were in fact *two* distinct meetings in Nara, one of JTC 1 and one of SWG Directives, the group tasked with maintaining/reforming the Directives.
  7. You mention how the recommendations “institutionalize judgments made with respect to the Geneva BRM that were questioned by some, such as allowing all National Bodies to be represented at a BRM, regardless of whether they had voted on the document under review”. However, this is a change – at “our” BRM only countries that had voted were permitted to attend.

- Alex.
[ # ]
13 Ways of Looking at a Flawed Process: JTC1 Recommends JTC1 Reforms
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Monday, November 24 2008 @ 05:39 AM CST
Alex,

Thanks for the quick corrections.  A few of your comments are a bit legalistic (e.g., ODF 1.2 is nearing completion), but I've made the appropriate corrections, and will look forward to your further thoughts,

  -  Andy
[ # ]
13 Ways of Looking at a Flawed Process: JTC1 Recommends Process Reforms
Authored by: Alex Brown on Monday, November 24 2008 @ 01:07 PM CST
Andy hi

On BRM procedure, I am not too surprised that the OOXML BRM will become a template for the future. Within the constaints of the current rules, it is the best that can be done, I think. Myself - I'd like to see those rules overhauled and big standards texts like ODF and OOXML barred from taking accelerated standards routes. Let's hope that happens soon.

(Again, however, note that SC 34 has not "asked that the manner in which that BRM was conducted be institutionalized" - this is nothing to do with SC 34.)

On the question of "duplicative" standards; well, that word does not exist in the ISO or IEC lexicon. Contradictory standards are of course a different matter, but on the question of OOXML the countries were able to express a vote against the spec if they considered it contradicated anything. By and large, they did not so vote. There, if you want it, is that impartial view.

I think anybody who claims a standards body can (of its innate nature) *guarantee* quality is selling snake oil: all standards bodies produce stinkers from time to time. Brains are always going to be required to look at standards, of any origin, before use. Any government that ever reasoned that a standard was suitable for them purely because of its origin, was being dumb. Governments need to understand their needs and then consider standards adoption in that context. (Of course its a myth governments ever behaved that way, or else they'd all be using DSSSL, ODA, OSI, and other whacky ISO relics; no, they have always tended to use their brains and pick from a wide selection of standards from varying origins).

It's over-simplifying to claim that JTC 1 is "a setting within which specifications can be considered for adoption", as many standards are "home-grown" in SCs and not adopted from outside. The chief benefit to the world of a standard coming into JTC 1 is that it is then controlled by the JTC 1 maintenance regime, with guaranteed channels for international input and rigorous procedures. For serious standards this is very important. Incidentally, this is why it is not "quaint" to be serious about ISO/IEC 26300 maintenance (i.e. ODF 1.0): this is the variant that many countries and international organisations have indicated they will use. The hobbyist mind-set that says "oh well, just upgrade to the latest version" does not sit well with governments and huge organisations accumulating critical content that needs to be reliably processable. Maintenance is a serious business.

As for starting a new standards organisation - well, it seems to me that among the ICT consortia the cake is already sliced very thinly: there are only so many experts and membership dollars to go round. And those numbers are going down. If people (for whatever reason) want to make standards without paying the "tax" imposed by JTC 1 procedures, why not take their work to OASIS? That seems a pretty good place. I would be highly suspicious of anything that looked like it was a knee-jerk response to the OOXML episode.

- Alex.

 

[ # ]
13 Ways of Looking at a Flawed Process: JTC1 Recommends Process Reforms
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Tuesday, November 25 2008 @ 06:10 AM CST
Alex,

Thanks for your further thoughts.  I don't see things too differently than you in some respects on these issues, but there are a few important differences worth noting.

On the BRM procedure, I think that we both agree that the problem was the size of the challenge and the nature of the rules.  Where we differ (or perhaps not?) would be in how we might have framed the recommendation had we been on the committee.  If this was within the committee's power, I would have suggested changes earlier in the submission process that would have made it impossible, or at least unlikely, for so great a challenge to be presented to a BRM in the future, and noted the strains that the size and relatively unfinished nature of the OOXML spec had placed on every step of the process before.  If such recommendations were out of scope, the recommendation could have been as it was, but with a note that the recommendation would be insufficient to set up a useful meeting in a similar situation in the future.

This takes me to your point about standards bodies being unable to guarantee quality.  True, but that leaves aside the question of how hard a standards body should try?  In the aftermath of the BRM there were statements made by ISO leadership (I could dig them up if need be) to the effect that the process is as I stated: a place where people can come to adopt (and develop) standards, and how they go about that, and what comes out of it, is a matter of eventual outcome (do the standards get approved or do they not?)

There is nothing intrinsically "wrong" with such a system, but as I stated, standards consumers need to be aware of what the system does and does not seek to achieve.  While I agree that governments obviously do adopt non-ISO/IEC IT standards, it is still true (I would in fact say "was until recently more true") that ISO/IEC adoption imbued a standard with a level of credibility in the eyes of many superior to standards that had not been so blessed.

So the questions, to my mind, then become as follows:

-  From a theoretical perspective, could and should the system strive to do better?  Just because a process produces standards doesn't mean that those that participate or depend upon it should be satisfied with less than the best (however defined) job that such a unitary, global infrastructure can delilver.  Like any other structure (let's pick on Detroit prior to being presented with serious competition from Japanese and other competitors), systems don't tend to deliver their best unless external stimuli require it of them. 

In my view, ISO/IEC JTC1 is very like Detroit prior to the Japanese invasion:  content with what it is doing, not really aware of its own shortcomings, and not incentivized to take a critical look at itself to see whether it (I am now speaking of JTC1) is meeting the responsibility of being the only existing global body within which national representatives can vote on IT standards and their adoption.  I continue to find the ISO 9000 series to be an ironic reproach to its developer.  Why should not the same attention to quality control be adopted by the developer of its own standards? 

In short, I think that there is a wide gulf between poor process and snakeoil.  Giving greater attention to processes from a quality perspective still won't guarantee perfect results, but it could certainly be more likely to appoach it.

-  If JTC1 is not interested in doing better, are there needs that still need to be filled, and if so, by whom (on which more below)?

While I will take your word for it that the word "duplicative" may not be in the ISO or IEC lexicion, you should probably send an email to the committee that made the resolution quoted above to let them know, as the only way to read that resolution is as a discussion of duplication ("alternatives," in the wording of the recommendation) and not consistency.  The fact remains, and the resolution emphasizes, that if alternative standards are problematic, JTC1 will not provide an avenue to worry about it.  Yes, an NB can vote against a proposal to express its displeasure, but in fact this seems to be an ineffectual right in the trenches, as they are likely to be outvoted.  I should note, by the way, that in general I am mostly in agreement with the outlook of the resolution, so I am making this point more for the benefit of those that have strong feelings regarding duplicate standards.

Regarding a "quaint" focus:  as you have noted, governments will pick the most useful standard, and not the one blessed by JTC1.  Where the non-JTC1 standard is more advanced, they are not likely to apply maintenance concerns over utility, especially where the standard (as with ODF) is supported and maintained by an active, stable, global organization.  Where you and I might agree might be whether it is appropriate for a standard to be entered into the JTC1 process before it reaches a certain stage of maturity.  It may be that where the evolution and extension of the standard continues to be very rapid, it is neither userful nor appropriate to embed it in a process that by its nature moves rather slowly, and fixes its standards in a certain form for a long period of time.

Finally, on the topic of a new standards organization:  Many governments (the EU providing the most thoughtful and fully developed vision) are making it clear that they wish to encourage the creation, and will favor in procurement, standards that meet certain standards of openness.  If ISO/IEC JTC1 do not desire to provide ways in which openness can be evaluated and certified, then the size of the sales opportunity will provide ample incentive for vendors to create such a body.  As I have noted in the past, such a body could, and should, be complementary to, rather than competitive with, JTC1. I think that you will see such an entity, and won't have long to wait.

As always, thanks for the thoughtful comments.

  -  Andy
[ # ]
13 Ways of Looking at a Flawed Process: JTC1 Recommends Process Reforms
Authored by: Alex Brown on Wednesday, November 26 2008 @ 10:02 AM CST

(Looks like it’s just us two. Audiences are well down from the heady days of OOXML voting!)

I too think we nearly agree on accelerated standards and BRMs. I take it you will be strongly opposed to any future version of ODF taking this route.

ISO and IEC are quite correct to take a hands-off view about the decisions made during standardisation. They are just framework-like organisations: it is the National Body members who make the decisions. This is the defining characteristic of international standardisation: nations (not vendors, not “the organisation”) deciding stuff.

> While I agree that governments obviously do adopt non-ISO/IEC IT standards,
> it is still true (I would in fact say "was until recently more true") that ISO/IEC
> adoption imbued a standard with a level of credibility in the eyes of many
> superior to standards that had not been so blessed.

Maybe, maybe not “superior”. But certainly *different*. Nations tend to value International Standards because they (nations) make them and ultimately control them. The value of that does not need to be argued: why do you think OASIS and Ecma (e.g.) are so keen to achieve the JTC 1 imprimatur?

There is a clear category difference between international standardisation (as performed by ISO, IEC ITU, the UN etc., and regional standards bodies such as CEN) and everything else (chiefly, vendor-led consortia). Vendors and consortia are of course always trying to sell themselves as the preferred alternatives … good luck to them!

> From a theoretical perspective, could and should the system strive to
> do better?

No need to get theoretical. In practical terms the system (or the people behind it) should strive to do better. That’s certainly the case in JTC 1 as you are seeing. And I certainly agree there is room for improvement. I also note, however, many who prefer to snipe from the sidelines rather than engaging constructively – so I would like to see some of the big corporations put their experts at the service of their national bodies to help reform along.

> If JTC1 is not interested in doing better, are there needs that still
> need to be filled, and if so, by whom (on which more below)?

Who said JTC 1 is “not interested” in doing better? (and remember JTC 1 is not an autonomous body, but the sum of its member nations). I see a lot of interest in improving things in JTC 1.

>  The fact remains, and the resolution emphasizes, that if alternative
> standards are problematic, JTC1 will not provide an avenue to worry
> about it.  Yes, an NB can vote against a proposal to express its displeasure,
> but in fact this seems to be an ineffectual right in the trenches,
> as they are likely to be outvoted.

That assumes “they” are “right” and those who do the “outvoting” are wrong. Remember, in JTC 1 balloting a super-majority is required to carry a vote, so anything more than a tiny minority has almost veto-like powers. If the countries decide one standard contradicts another one, they will vote it down. The most recent high-profile instance of this was the WAPI specification getting voted down, of course. So again, I see your complaint here as purely OOXML-motivated, single issue politics. We didn’t, after all, hear anything about ODF “duplicating” the existing ISO document format, ODA.

> Regarding a "quaint" focus:  as you have noted, governments will pick
> the most useful standard, and not the one blessed by JTC1.

I think it’s extremely important not to elide “picking” the standard with “using” it. Once a government has committed to (say) ISO 26300 it wants the certainty of using documents that conform to that specification. And for XML formats, conformity is a measurable, definite, characteristic. If you are saying that governments should be happy to track whatever whizzy changes the standards committees decide on next, then I would totally disagree. This would take us back very much to the phenomenon of MS Office in the last decade, when the users were at the mercy of changes to the file formats made by the techies (however cool they were).

> Where the non-JTC1 standard is more advanced, they are not likely to
> apply maintenance concerns over utility

Of course it’s a balance, but upgrading a file format in a government is very different from upgrading a format on a hobbyist desktop, since millions of dollars worth of systems will come to accrue dependencies on the details of that format. This is why in government (and large corporations) the rate of change tends to be frustratingly slow. Look how prevalent MS Internet Explorer 6 still is, and that is certainly not for reasons of (pure) “utility”!

> especially where the standard (as with ODF) is supported and maintained
> by an active, stable, global organization. 

Well I am an OASIS fan but one has to remain realistic. “Global”, I suspect, is shaping up to the weasel standards word of 2009, a kind of faux stand-in for “international” that doesn’t actually mean anything (air is “global”).

> Where you and I might agree might be whether it is appropriate for a standard
> to be entered into the JTC1 process before it reaches a certain stage of maturity.

Into a PAS/Fast Track, process certainly. If it is entered into committee stages there is a loopback process that keeps if from advancing until it is adjudged ready.

> It may be that where the evolution and extension of the standard continues
> to be very rapid, it is neither useful nor appropriate to embed it in a process
> that by its nature moves rather slowly, and fixes its standards in a certain
> form for a long period of time.

No, and such standards are probably unsuitable for adoption by governments or large organisations or corporations. “Unstable” might be the word.

> Finally, on the topic of a new standards organization:  Many governments
> (the EU providing the most thoughtful and fully developed vision) are making
> it clear that they wish to encourage the creation, and will favor in procurement,
> standards that meet certain standards of openness.

Yes – and I find myself increasingly involved with the discussion in Brussels on this policy area. By and large, however, we Europeans are a fairly centrist pragmatic bunch, and are very sceptical of U.S. vendors or self-styled “open source activists” (for - we do have some) telling us our European standards institutions are corrupt and insisting that their views must prevail to the exclusion of all others. European eyes are very wide open to the possibility that “open” can be, and often is, a stalking horse for certain corporate agendas. Why else would corporations be interested, after all!?

>  If ISO/IEC JTC1 do not desire to provide ways in which openness can
> be evaluated and certified,

An ISO standard for openness is something that has been raised before. Maybe the EU provides a good use case for that. After the last 12 months especially, that poor word has had the life blood kicked out of it. But even if such a definition existed, the idea of any entity having some kind of moral monopoly that allows it to “evaluate and certify” openness strikes me as pretty risible. From where would the authority be derived? Ultimately, when the good will has faded and the activists have grown up and got paid jobs, one comes back to the question of who is in the driving seat: the nations or the corporations?

> then the size of the sales opportunity will provide ample incentive
> for vendors to create such a body.

Of course, but if a vendor-created body is for those vendors pursuing, as you put it, a “sales opportunity” they will expect to be judged as such, and not flying under false colours of “freedom”, “openness”, etc. Again, you are of course entirely correct – this (the “sales opportunity”) is why vendors are interested in this area.

>  As I have noted in the past, such a body could, and should, be complementary
> to, rather than competitive with, JTC1. I think that you will see such an entity,
> and won't have long to wait.

Well, coming back to where we started there is one JTC 1, so any new body would, by virtue of its category difference, be “complementary” – it would join the background hum alongside the hundreds (thousands?) of other vendor-led organisations. If it was involved in ICT work I’d see it probably as a rival to OASIS, Ecma, etc. as while JTC 1 isn’t going away, these other bodies are having an increasingly tough time competing in the non-international standardisation space which is not afforded the solid backing of government funds, as JTC 1 members are.

Since it seems you are dead set on these (let me guess, certain non-Microsoft) vendors starting some new kind of (let me guess) “global” organisation (and I’m also guessing you personally would have a role to play), I’d be interested to know why OASIS (say) isn’t good enough for the purposes you mention. If vendors are willing to push money into standards activities, I’d have thought it would be better to extend a friendly hand in that direction, rather than dividing things up more.

- Alex.

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