Standards Development, Strategy, and Adoption

Key challenges and initial discussion questions

Technologies and systems are rapidly emerging that are highly interconnected and interdependent, require difficult transitions from legacy approaches, entail risk and complexity in investment decisions, and offer new costs and benefits to both companies and society. Standards are essential in addressing these concerns. But they can constrain or enable innovation and competitiveness. Companies that fail to participate in the development of standards (including working to block adverse developments) that are critical to their operations and planning are forced to live by what is determined by competitors. Participation also can be an invaluable means of testing new ideas, and assessing needs of stakeholders, industry and technology trends and strengths and vulnerabilities relative to competitors represented in the development process.

But deciding with which of the vast number of current and evolving standards to engage and how is difficult. The process is complex, with many underlying dimensions, and often varies considerably by development group, industry/product, and country or countries involved and may be impacted by political, economic and technological changes during the development process. The depth of possible participation on their development is part of what differentiates standards from regulations.

Standards negotiation differs from other negotiations in the likelihood/degree to which:

  • parties are mismatched differing in types of organizations ranging from governments to industry to other stakeholders; levels and standing of individual representatives; agendas, knowledge bases, and experience in target domain and standards setting in general; and cultures and development stages;
  • goals of participation extend beyond “winning”; consequences of pulling out can be significant and negotiations & standards setting will continue without you. Perhaps most significant – “success” of the process and negotiations requires actual acceptance and use of the standard in the market;
  • you will encounter parties again in other negotiations with different starting alliances and perhaps changed agendas.

There have been attempts with mixed results to “harmonize” standards reducing variations by country. Also finding difficulty have been efforts to move from reactive (responsive to established market dominance) to anticipatory standards (proactive – at early stages of technology development) to better guide development and provide platforms/foundation for corporate planning/ emerging technology selection, investment decisions and innovation. Challenges include:

  • How support transition from legacy systems and prior standards?
  • How maintain flexibility and support innovation, avoiding choosing an approach too soon?
  • How define scope of standard?
  • What does the anticipatory standard build on, what is relevant?
  • Who should /must participate in anticipatory standard development? (may inherently cross traditional boundaries and stakeholder definition)
  • How deal with the wider than usual variation in understanding of the emerging technology among developers

Initial discussion questions:

  • What are strategic implications for selecting standards and participation in standards development?
  • How could/should organizational and other considerations determine who represents a company in negotiations, how they are prepared and how the standards strategy activity fits with other organization functions? What are illustrative cases?
  • What are the implications for standards development of the lifecycle stage of the targeted technology and addressing needs of less developed countries?
  • How can the importance and complexity of standards development participation be captured and conveyed in current courses and curricula? What are key obstacles and how might they be addressed?

Linked papers

Review our Standards Development Papers page for links to papers that are specific to standards development, strategy, and adoption.