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Did ANSI’s WSW2017 Turn a Page for SDOs?

I just returned from Washington, DC where, along with colleagues from work and about 1500 other people, I attended ANSI’s World Standards Week (WSW2017). Maybe it was the long flight home, but it took a couple of days for the fog of jet-lag cleared and the realization emerged that I might have witnessed SDO History in the making.

As in previous editions of this important and influential gathering of Standards Developing Organizations, this year’s event was billed as an opportunity for open and inspirational presentations and extensive dialog about interests, trends, and challenges confronting professionals in the standardization and conformity assessment community. With excitement, I looked forward to a chance to join enlightened minds in the discussion “all-things-SDO”. In that regard, for me, the week turned out to be a full success: The place was abuzz with thought leadership offered by world-prominent contributors, as well as the business and technical leaders of a large number of inspection companies, departmental and agency officials, government and regulatory bodies, academia, industry at large, as well as many of the professional associations who have become the de-facto voice of end-user interests.

Now, this was my first time at WSW. So, perhaps naively, I anticipated presentations to be centered largely around familiar mantras such as the importance of using standards and the customary (and evident) reasons why “standards make everybody’s life better”…; and to be sure, there was some of that going on. Yet, there was so much more! This year, the regulars agreed, there was something different in the air.

Both, in the scheduled program and in conversations, the discussion often turned to the topic of “Digital Transformation” and how technology will impact the work and business of SDOs. An entire morning, introduced with an insightful presentation by Scott Buchholz (CTO, Deloitte Consulting) was focused on technology trends. The afternoon of that same day included a spirited panel under the heading The Digital Transformation of Standardization; and, from the table, Todd Carpenter (Executive Director, NISO) offered details on the recently announced Standards Tag Suite (formally STS NISO z.39.102-2017), and better known as the Standard of Standards.

“The new z.39.102 standard may be unassuming in nomenclature, but the implications and potential are indeed transformative.”

I believe this is where SDOs turn a page and have the opportunity to start an exciting new chapter in the evolution of their business. The new z.39.102 standard may be unassuming in its nomenclature, but the implications and potential are indeed transformative. Consider the scope of STS: It defines a full suite of XML elements and attributes that describe the full-text content and metadata of standards and provides a common format to preserve intellectual content, independent of the form in which that content was delivered originally. More to the point, and here I paraphrase Mr. Carpenter on one of his key observations: “Publishing standards in XML using NISO STS provides a sustainable upgrade from the inflexibility of PDF”.

I agree. In fact, this is WOW!; and it may be SDO history in the making.

SDOs, like many other organizations, face increasingly strong pressure to develop, implement, and expand their digitally-enabled business practices. Their members have become sophisticated users of digital products and services, and in the ranks of SDO leadership, there’s a growing appreciation for the tangible economic benefits and the positive ROI associated with the conversion of their own internal operations using digital platforms.

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In some sense, one may argue, some of this is not really new. Long before the use of the expression “digital transformation” became fashionable, pioneering SDOs had embarked on journeys to explore ways in which digital technology could help make their business more efficient and effective. I know this because for almost 10 years, my own organization, InfoBeans, has been a technical partner to many SDO pioneers who started early on their digital initiatives.

However, the significance and developments ahead that may have been inspired by WSW2017 cannot be ignored. After the event, a clearer vision sparks the enthusiasm around new technical and business opportunities for document interoperability, community engagement, and the use and consolidation of standards as data.

“Long before ‘digital transformation’ became fashionable, pioneering SDOs had embarked on journeys to explore ways in which digital technology could help make their business more efficient and effective.”

After WSW2017, I expect the focus of conversations in the marketing, business development and IT teams of SDOs will likely turn to “old” new challenges such as the unstructured nature of standards data and documents and how to best leverage the knowledge and information captured in those assets using advanced technologies in artificial intelligence and machine learning, or the exploration of new digitally-enabled ways for member collaboration in the development of standards, as well as exciting new models of distribution and consumption once said standards are created.

These are truly exciting times for SDOs. As for me, I’m already looking at travel dates and options to ensure I am back in Washington DC for WSW2018!

[Photo Courtesy: ANSI]

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