When and How to Launch a Standards Consortium

Handshake, by Tobias Wolker, multiple licenses at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Handshake_%28Workshop_Cologne_%2706%29.jpegAbstract: The last twenty-five years have been marked by an explosion of consortia formed to develop, promote and/or otherwise support standards enabling information and communications technology. The reasons for forming a new consortium, as compared to adding to the work program of an existing body, include the absence in such organizations of appropriate technical expertise, interest, and/or supporting programs, as well as the benefits to be gained from directing all of the resources and efforts of a new consortium to the achievement of a set of specific objectives. This article reviews the benefits to be obtained from launching a new consortium, the criteria that should be used to determine whether doing so is appropriate, the programs and functionalities available for achieving specific goals, and the stages of institutional maturity at which each function should be added in order to accomplish a new organization's mission.

One of the most successful innovations of the past twenty-five years in the area of collaborative development has been the application of the "consortium" concept to the area of standards creation and promotion. Almost overnight, this inherently flexible approach was adopted by scores, and then hundreds, of ad hoc, self-selecting cadres of stakeholders (usually product or service vendors) to develop, promote and maintain thousands of new standards in the fast-paced information and communications technology (ICT) industry.

Today, almost all of the standards in key technical areas such as the Internet and the Web are created and supported by consortia. Consortium developed standards also predominate in the information technology sector, and, to a lesser extent, in communications technology as well.

Despite this success, the formation of standards-related consortia remains largely limited to the ICT arena, and to new ICT-related standards development initiatives launched in other industries (e.g., automotive, life sciences, and so on).

This selectivity of application provides an answer to an intriguing question: why form new standards consortia at all, given the hundreds of already-existing traditional standards development organizations (SDOs) and consortia?

In this article, I will review the situations where a new consortium should and — as importantly — should not, be formed. I will also provide a decision tree for determining what activities a new consortium should undertake to increase the likelihood of its success, a description of the infrastructural elements needed to support these activities, and an indication of the stage of an organization’s maturity at which the addition of each activity becomes advisable.

The above is the introduction to the Feature Article of the last issue of my eJournal, Standards Today.  The complete article can be found here


Sign up for a free subscription to Standards Today today!