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Standards and Society

The Constantine Code and the Missing Standard!

Standards and Society

One of the realities that every standards professional must deal with is the sad fact that everyone else in the world thinks that standards are…

     [start over; no one else thinks about standards much at all]

Ahem. One of the things that standards folks must come to terms with is the fact that on the rare occasions when anyone else thinks about standards at all, likely as not it's to observe that standards are…

…boring.

[There. I've said it]

But really, now, this perception has got to change. And with the recent release of Dan Brown's latest pot boiler, The Lost Symbol, I believe I've figured out how to make standards really, really exciting. Really.

Technology's Reach and Security's Grasp

Standards and Society

Modern society harbors many bad habits. One is its penchant for enthusiastically embracing the benefits of new technologies before considering their less desirable side effects. Whether we look at the development of automobiles (first) and safety features (much later), or industrialization (first) and environmental protection (much, much later), the story is always much the same: we reach for the candy before we grasp the reality of the cavities. Only after the problems become too great to ignore do we investigate the unintended consequences, realize how difficult and expensive they are to address, and grudgingly start to rein in our appetites and exercise a bit of prudent self-discipline.

Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that the U.S. government is only now becoming alarmed over the vulnerability to which we have become exposed as a result of our whole-hearted embrace of the Internet. With the operations of government, defense, finance, commerce, power distribution, communications, transportation, and just about everything else now dependent on the healthy operation of the Internet, that alarm is well-justified. And with the creation and storage now of virtually all data in digital, rather than physical form, exposure of our financial as well as our most intimate personal and health information is only a hack away as well.

Standards and the Smart Grid

Standards and Society

If you haven't heard the words "smart grid" before, that's likely to change soon.  That's especially so if you live in the U.S., where billions of dollars in incentive spending is pouring into making the smart grid a reality.  As you might expect, since I'm talking about it here, the smart grid will rely on standards to become real.  A whole lot of standards, in fact, and that's a problem

Those of you who are subscribers to my free standards eJournal Standards Today know that I've dedicated each of the last several issues to one of the many multi-billion dollar initiatives that the Obama Administration has launched that are heavily dependent on standards - which in many cases do not yet exist.   Each initiative is also of great complexity, and will need to rely on a level of cooperation and collaboration that does not natively exist in the marketplace.  That's certainly the case with the Smart Grid challenge, and that's what the latest issue of Standards Today is all about.

Energy Conservation From Zero to Sixty

Standards and Society

Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. electric power delivery infrastructure served our nation well,…  This once state-of-the-art system brought a level of prosperity to the United States unmatched by any other nation in the world. But a 21st-century U.S. economy cannot be built on a 20th-century electric grid.
       A Vision for the Modern Grid, National Energy Technology Laboratory, for the DOE, March 2007

For decades utility companies and environmentalists alike have known that more dramatic and economical advances in energy policy could be achieved through energy conservation than by any other means.  By utilizing techniques as simple as buying more efficient appliances and better insulating our homes we can lower our dependence on foreign oil, release fewer greenhouse gases, and savemoney as well, all at the same time.  For almost as long, utilities have promoted the concept of “demand side management,” and sought to enlist the aid of consumers and businesses to shift electricity usage to low-demand times of the day, with the potential benefit of avoiding the need to build expensive new power plants.

How Open a Platform does "Open Government" Need?

Standards and Society

Any old standards hand forced to choose the single most disputed issue in standard setting over the past decade would likely respond with a deceivingly simple question: "What does it mean to be an 'open standard?'" A similar debate rages in the open source community between those that believe that some licenses (e.g., the BSD, MIT and Apache licenses) are "open enough," while others would respond with an emphatic Hell No! (or less printable words to similar effect).

That's not too surprising, because the question of what "open" means subsumes almost every other categorical question that information and communications technology (ICT) standards and open source folk are likely to disagree over, whether they be economic (should a vendor be able to be implement a standard free of charge, or in free and open source software (FOSS) licensed under a version of the General Public License (GPL)); systemic (are standards adopted by ISO/IEC JTC 1 "better" than those that are not); or procedural (must the economic and other terms upon which a necessary patent claim can be licensed be disclosed early in the development process)?

The reason why this background level of disagreement is relevant today is because the Obama Administration has pledged to use technology to bring an "unprecedented" level of transparency and interaction in government to the people.  If that's going to happen, though, it means that the platforms that the new administration adopts to provide open government will have to be open as well.  Which brings us at last to the question of just what, exactly, "open" should mean, when it comes to "open government."

View from the Trenches: an Interview with HL7's Charles Jaffe, M.D.

Standards and Society

The number of standard setting organizations (SSOs) from which specifications have been drawn to create Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are legion, due to the complex nature of these goal. Some of the standards utilized are generic, and common to any sophisticated Internet-enabled commercial system. Others are specific to science, but usable generally in paper as well as information technology (IT) based health care systems. Only a few SSOs, however, have taken up the challenge of developing the major components essential and unique to EHRs. One of the oldest and most important is Health Level 7, more commonly referred to as HL7.

HL7 has been at the center of global EHR development since 1987, as well as a key player in the more recent U.S. efforts to design and implement a national EHR system by 2014, a commitment made by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address in January of 2004.

With the Obama Administration's pledge to meet that commitment, and to direct massive amounts of funding towards ensuring its success, it is critical that the standards needed to support this ambitious goal are not only available, but the right tools for the job as well.

In this interview, HL7 CEO Charles Jaffe, M.D. shares his perspective on what's been accomplished, what remains to be done, and where the critical decisions that will lead to success or failure in creating a national EHR system must be made.

First the Standards, Then the Solution

Standards and Society

In the last issue of my eJournal, Standards Today, titled A Standards Agenda for the Obama Administration, I described the standards-based dependencies of the technology agenda earlier announced by president-elect Obama. That agenda provides for the creative use of technology to advance a number of important policy goals, such as achieving transparent government, equal access to the Internet, and reducing costs of healthcare. In this issue, I focus more closely on the significant role that standards will play in achieving one of (now) President Obama's greatest challenges — lowering healthcare costs, while at the same time keeping a campaign promise to provide universal health coverage.

As these words are being written, the US Congress is debating the final terms of a stimulus bill that will result in the expenditure of almost $800 billion of public funds on a wide array of initiatives intended to address an equally challenging goal: resurrecting an economy that seems inexorably headed towards its worst performance since the Great Depression.  One of those initiatives included in the stimulus bill would make the final push towards national implementation of something called "Electronic Health Records," or "EHRs" - and spend $20 billion in the process.  Whether that money gets spend wisely or not will depend a lot on open standards.

Getting Electronic Health Record Standards Right

Standards and Society

The following is the text of the Editorial from the latest issue of my eJournal, Standards Today.  You can find the complete issue here, and receive a free subscription here.

On January 20, a new show opened in Washington D.C. After eight years under one administration, the curtain cascaded down on one set of policies, and a moment later rose to unveil a new administration, with new ideas, new priorities, and a new agenda. Included in that agenda is a commitment to embark on a five year quest to dramatically decrease the cost of healthcare — by investing as much as $50 billion dollars of public funds in the design and deployment of something called "electronic health records," or EHRs.

Readers of this Blog, but not the public at large, will be immediately aware that the foundation for the EHR vision is standards.

10 Standards Recommendations for the Obama Administration

Standards and Society
The following piece is taken from the latest (October-November 2008) issue of my eJournal, Standards Today.  The issue is titled, A Standards Agenda for the Obama Administration and includes further articles on that topic.  For a free subscription to Standards Today, click here.

The goals of the Obama administration are in tune with — but in some technical respects, ahead of — the technological times. As discussed in the Editorial to this issue, unless certain standards-related dependencies are promptly addressed, the timely achievement of the president-elect's innovation and technology policy will be jeopardized. But, as examined in the Feature Article of this issue, the government does not have the historical competency to address these dependencies. What, then, is the new administration to do?

The following is an integrated suite of recommendations that could be implemented quickly and inexpensively, and without Congressional action. Of the ten proposals, the first is most urgent, as the advisors assembled in this step would provide the experience, guidance and active assistance needed to implement the recommendations that follow.

Technology, Innovation and the Challenge of the Missing Standards

Standards and Society
The following piece is the editorial in the latest issue of my eJournal, Standards Today.  The issue is titled, A Standards Agenda for the Obama Administration and includes further articles on that topic.  For a free subscription to Standards Today, click here.


Barack Obama promises to be the most technologically attuned U.S. president ever. More than a year ago, he released a policy statement on technology and innovation that detailed his plans to employ state of the art technology to pursue a broad spectrum of goals, such as increasing national competitiveness, providing next-generation broadband access for all, creating a "transparent and connected democracy," decreasing health care costs, acting to prevent global warming, and lowering American dependence on foreign oil. In pursuit of these goals, he also promised to appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer.

These are worthy and important goals. Like the other commendable promises the president-elect has made, they will be difficult to realize, for reasons both obvious and subtle. The obvious challenges include a crowded and ambitious agenda, the difficulties of achieving political consensus, and above all, the overarching urgency of addressing a global economic meltdown that demands attention above all else.

But there are subtle hurdles that are equally daunting, if less visible. They include the need to develop a multitude of new information and communications technology (ICT) standards in record time, utilizing a standards creation process that is at best loosely coordinated, frequently contentious, and almost completely independent of government influence or control. Moreover, the current standards development infrastructure was never designed to create the suites of closely integrated standards that will be needed to solve the types of complex problems embedded in the Obama technology and innovation agenda. But while the challenge of creating standards-based solutions may be uninteresting from a policy perspective, an inability to perform in this pursuit may present as serious an impediment to success as any failure to secure requisite funding or garner sufficient Congressional support.

Consider just the following examples from the Obama technology and innovation platform:

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