Many individuals in the technology field would struggle to find someone who does not see the value of a standard. We live in a world of various systems, each with its own design decisions and applications — frequently even within the same organization, much alone across enterprises. In this perspective, standards are what allow technology to accomplish practically everything we want it to do, such as properly transmitting a message from one computer to another or being understandable to a newly recruited engineer.
Standards are amazing engines of invention, in addition to their direct pragmatic roles. They imply that a company may develop and market a new product with the confidence that customers will be able to integrate it with their existing products. At the same time, they may spark new ideas: if a method is defined and detailed in a standard, it’s easy to envisage what else might be accomplished using that method.
When standards stumble
In summary, everyone likes standards – until they no longer serve our requirements.
For more than twenty-five years, The Open Group has been setting industry standards. We’ve gone through the same changes as every other company over the last quarter-century, starting in 1995, when the Internet was just beginning to be utilized commercially. Our working groups have convened in person, over the phone, and via video conferencing. Our members have worked together using a variety of tools, including whiteboards, email, and shared online documents.
We’ve depended on a variety of standards along the road, some open, like email, and others closed. The difficulty with a standard like an email is that it might be difficult to maintain it up to date with the demands of those who use it. Of course, we still need it to send billions of messages every day, but the original email transfer protocol, for example, does not enable attachments. As a result, the industry developed a new standard that builds on the original to allow attachments to be sent.
As a result, standards build throughout time to meet the numerous additional functionalities that we demand. This is a process that has been accelerating since the early days of the Internet, with new tools, frameworks, platforms, and services emerging at an ever-increasing rate as critical components of the digital industry.
What applies to communication protocols also applies to all types of standards. The Open Group, for example, was founded to promote a common standard for UNIX® implementation and has since gone on to develop the world’s most widely used enterprise architecture methodology and framework, as well as open standards for everything from interoperable healthcare systems to the recording and processing of environmental footprint data.
This work is important to many aspects of the modern digital industry, as well as our daily life. As such businesses combine their business and technical capabilities into product-centric agile delivery teams, they can no longer rely on a few standards to address their problems. The capacity to keep up with the rapid speed of change in the ever-evolving tools and frameworks is a necessary talent for staying competitive. How can businesses better embrace and maintain standards in light of this competitive imperative?
A modular future for standards
We also know that taking a different method will not mean abandoning the notion of having standards and the benefit they give. It’s common knowledge that a large percentage of digital transformation projects fail, and the root cause is often that, while empowering smaller teams to act more quickly in a digitally native manner, organizations fail to change their business model, organization, management, and culture to ensure that those empowered teams can work together.
By altering the way businesses function, standards development may assist companies in making key business transformations. The agile approach itself, naturally, provides inspiration on how to achieve this. When the technique is implemented correctly, numerous agile teams inside an organization will generate modular components that add up to something far more than the sum of their parts. Businesses should strive to embrace standards that provide the same level of quality: modular, organized, composable elements that, when integrated, provide value rather than conflict. The method for developing those standards should be flexible enough to change in line with the underlying business and technological forces. The procedure should also be set up to allow for speedy learning from market input. If standards can’t adapt and grow quickly enough, they’ll quickly become obsolete for product teams looking for answers to their difficulties.
Standards in the future will be modular, with components that can be evaluated and modified more quickly to stay up with the world around them.
While rigorous design and consensus will always be important in the development of standards, the industry must move away from the practice of developing huge, monolithic standards that grow slowly. Standards development must “enable work in tiny batches, ideally single-piece flow, gaining immediate and continuous feedback on our work,” to borrow from the agile world once more. Large, slow-evolving standards, in other words, represent a type of technical debt for the standards business.
We must consider customer standards in addition to the development process. A modular future for standards will be one in which standards-based solutions, regardless of whose standard they belong to, are easy to identify and traverse.
Standards thrive in the end when they enable individuals to easily find and implement answers to their business concerns. Businesses will require standards that function the way they work in today’s fast-changing world.