Not long ago, simply upgrading the aging U.S. electric grid to the state of the digital art to reduce power failures seemed like a big challenge. Now, the upgrade is intended to do much more: increase national security by limiting our dependence on foreign oil, reduce the need for new centralized power production facilities, and cut green house gas emissions. In this story, I review the Congressional mandate and funding for the development of the hundreds of standards that will be needed to accomplish these goals, the process being used to select them, and the broad range of standard setting organizations that will provide them.
Governments represent some of the most complex enterprises in existence, typically comprising multiple “silos” of high-value information trapped within proprietary legacy systems. Government CIOs today are struggling to upgrade their vast IT systems to exchange information across the enterprise, even as President Obama has called upon them to make much of the same information publicly accessible via the Internet. What should the result look like, and why?
Standards organizations and governments have been working on Electronic Health Records for many years. In this article I describe the complexities that make the creation of EHRs difficult, survey the current state of the EHR art, describe the public and private organizations most involved in EHR development, and recommend next steps needed to ensure that the national deployment of EHRs will be successful.
In contrast to many other nations, the United States employs a “bottom up” standards development process that is driven by industry rather than government. That system permits new products and services to be swiftly introduced into a competitive marketplace, but leaves government with little ability to address its own technology needs, or to advance standards-related policy goals. In this article, I trace the origins of the current system, highlight its shortcomings, and suggest ways that government can achieve its goals without reshaping a process that is otherwise working well.
Until the advent of the Internet, the acquisition of knowledge was a slow and linear process of discovery/review/publish/read and start the cycle once again. The legal system that evolved to support that process ranked the rights of creators over users, because society lost little in the bargain. Today, the Internet has upset that equation, and creators of all types are voluntarily relaxing their ownership rights in order to mutually enjoy the benefits of greater access, faster development, and more useful collaboration.
The history of humanity demonstrates an ongoing evolution in the balancing of the rights of the individual with those of society. Only in modern times have many of the civil rights we hold to be most dear become recognized and protected by law. With many of these rights now being exercised virtually through the use of information and communications technology (ICT), attention must be paid to ensure that they are not diminished or endangered. In order to protect such “Civil ICT Rights,” we will need to take special care in developing “Civil ICT Standards.”
Superficially, the conflict between ODF and OOXML would seem to be a classic, if more than usually hard-fought standards war. In fact, it’s simply a skirmish in a far broader conflict being played out across an IT landscape that is undergoing fundamental change.
The role of the traditional global standards organization has been to adopt standards that have been found to be of acceptable technical quality to those National Bodies with an interest in the subject matter. In the modern world of information and communications technology, new types of certifications for standards development organizations themselves are needed, developed and administered by a new type of global accrediting body.
In centuries past, colonial powers used the cheap labor provided by their new subjects to extract resources, and their new colonies as captive markets for their own manufactured goods. Today, similar results can be achieved with much less effort when royalty bearing patent claims are embedded in the standards for products such as DVD players and cellular phones. If the royalties are high enough, the patent owners can have such products built in emerging countries using cheap local labor, and sell them there and globally under their own brands. Meanwhile, emerging company manufacturers can’t afford to build similar products at all. Governments in developed nations should use their purchasing power to impede, rather than support, such “standards based neocolonialism.”
The negative impacts comprehended by the tragedy of the commons are becoming more frequent and urgent with increasing population and industrialization. Perhaps only through a rethinking of property rights will individuals and nations be able to agree on the laws needed for our mutual protection.