It’s been an interesting day as I’ve watched the various responses to the publication of the IBM Standards Principles. As I hoped, they raised some issues and started some debates. I suspect that longtime readers of this blog will find themes in the principles that I have discussed here before.
The principles themselves are meant to be taken as a whole and are written, I think, in a positive, constructive way. For example, some of the words and phrases used include:
- “create economic development platforms”
- “deliver services to their citizens”
- “quality and openness”
- “adopt open and global standards”
- “clear, simple, and consistent”
These principles demonstrate IBM’s continued and expanded support for open standards, as well as the importance they hold for our customers. We are strengthening our commitment to open standards and the value they bring to all.
Let me add a few comments to the principles themselves, in reverse order.
Help drive the creation of clear, simple and consistent intellectual property policies for standards organizations, thereby enabling standards developers and implementers to make informed technical and business decisions.
I discussed this in the seventh prediction I made at LinuxWorld 2008. In that blog entry I said
Over at the Creative Commons, they’ve worked out six licenses that allow for several types of “free” use of creative content. The website allows you to check a few options, answer a few questions, and voila, you have a license.
I think something similar could work for standards organizations. Even though mathematically the different possible options for each element of a license could lead to a combinatorial explosion, in practice only one or two of the options are in common use.
We need to develop this small number of license templates and we need to get standards organizations to commit to using them, without change. No tweaking. No saying “Well, we’re special so we’re going to modify this area.” You’re not special.
If there were fewer licenses, they would be better understood. Approval to participate in standards efforts would become simpler. We would better know how to create products and software that mixed and matched standards from different sources. We would better understand how standards licenses lined up with open source licenses.
Where appropriate, we also need to employ ex ante, the early notification of intellectual property that applies to a standard. Disclosure up front so there are no unexpected surprises later.
Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.
This is consistent with the software interoperability pledge that IBM made in June, 2007. More than that, it’s making sure that standards developers and software implementers, be it for open source or proprietary software, share requirements and work together to maximize use of the highest quality standards that will do well in the market. It also means that the right policies need to be in place and well understood by everyone.
Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.
Back in the 1990s I was a member of the W3C Document Object Working Group. One source of entertainment at some of the meetings was when two employees of the same company would argue strenuously for positions that were diametrically opposed. At the other extreme, having a large group of standards participants voting as a bloc, seemingly under the control of one party, does not bring balance and equilibrium to the situation.
That’s not to say that different people coming from their own positions can’t agree and therefore vote the same way. The problem comes when decisions are reached in ways that don’t reflect real independence of the decision makers.
I’ve asked before in this blog if we don’t need some sort of full disclosure from standards participants. In the wiki IBM facilitated last summer, there was a good discussion of the notions of open government and how these might apply to standards making. Over time various votes on standards will be won or lost. I think an open, transparent organization should help users and other stakeholders understand who voted how and why. This is especially true for organizations that represent countries. We must have and understand accountability.
Encourage emerging and developed economies to both adopt open global standards and to participate in the creation of those standards.
When we have a minimal number of high quality standards that many people around the world can use, then implementing software and other products can become easier. We get better interoperability and we can exchange information globally. We get more competition, wherever it might come from. This drives more and better choices of software and other products for customers.
Standards should take into account requirements coming from anyone who might use the standards, even if that person or organization is on the other side of the planet from you. Conversely, the more countries or regions that use global standards instead of creating local silos, the better connected we all will be.
A standard that can be used with great success globally does not necessarily have to be an “international” standard. Standards organizations need to respect the needs and opinions of technology creators and users from both emerging and established economies.
Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.
IBM belongs to many, many fine standards organizations and we look forward to long and productive relationships with them. These organizations and their work are strategic to IBM’s business and the products and services it offers to its customers. IBM is proud to be a member of these groups.
Today IBM has various processes in place that determine if it joins a particular organization or a working group within it. I think these work well and they include both business and legal analyses. Usually IBM doesn’t join a particular effort if the work it is undertaking doesn’t match IBM’s business model. For example, I don’t think IBM is in any standards group that is creating specifications for, say, umbrellas.
IBM may choose to not participate in an effort if IBM thinks it unnecessarily duplicates previous, presumably better work. This was the case with OOXML in ECMA. If IBM gets involved with a standards effort it is because IBM thinks it is important and is something it will likely implement. This involves a lot of resources and, as with any organization, those resources need to employed efficiently and in the right places.
With this principle, IBM is saying that it will increasingly look more closely at issues like the openness and transparency of a standards organization, as well as the modernness and consistency of the processes and intellectual property rules. IBM did so before, but it will do more in the future. IBM will sharpen and communicate its criteria to those involved in a cooperative manner.
Notwithstanding the various sexy headlines I’ve seen today, leaving a standards group would be a last resort. Though IBM is but one company, it hopes to use its experience to help resolve problems that are found in a constructive and collegial way, before the situation becomes too dire.
To reiterate what I said at the beginning, IBM is more committed to open standards than ever before. IBM believes that open standards are good for customers since they provide more options, better products, and insurance against being locked in by any one vendor or provider.
I hope others will find value in these principles.