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Standards Wars Workshop Spotlights a Galaxy of Perspectives on Competition, Convergence, and Coordination in Standards Development

Nearly 200 representatives of industry, standards and conformance organizations, government, and consumer groups gathered in Washington, DC - and 70 more tuned in via teleconference - for the May 12 American National Standards Institute (ANSI) workshop, Standards Wars: Myth or Reality? And despite the battle-ready title, a general view emerged that while conflict and duplication in standards development are deserving of continual vigilance, the U.S. voluntary consensus standardization system is strong, effective, and responsive to the country's needs. According to presenters and attendees, a one-size-fits-all approach is not the optimal model when it comes to standards development.

"For years, the issues of competition, convergence, and coordination have been hotly debated within the standards and conformance community. In an effort to share information about how market forces impact different areas of standards development, ANSI convened this workshop to provide an open and constructive mechanism through which different viewpoints are discussed," said ANSI senior vice president and chief operating officer Fran Schrotter in her opening remarks.

Made possible with the support of a grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the workshop was organized as a highly interactive series of panel-based discussions and Q&A sessions.

"I am sure that each of you brings to this session some thoughts and experiences related to conflict, duplication, coordination, and competition in the standards world," said workshop facilitator Jim Pauley, senior vice president - external affairs and government relations, Schneider Electric. "And similar to our experiences at any good consensus standards development process - we will not all agree. But we can all learn from each other in our common goal of strengthening the robust U.S. voluntary consensus standards system that exists today."

Mr. Pauley also moderated the first panel that presented standards users' viewpoints on the topics of whether multiple standards are a problem and how standards gain acceptance and prominence.

Representing Consumers Union, Don Mays explained that his organization monitors the effectiveness of existing standards and works to improve them on behalf of consumers. Amy Marasco of Microsoft stressed that the information and communications technology landscape has thrived under a system where multiple standards are often available, competing for acceptance by firms and their customers. Key technology areas such as database access models, document formats, digital image formats, and audio and video formats all benefit from the availability of multiple standards to meet different needs.

Mary Saunders of NIST explained that the federal government recognizes that multiple standards solutions exist as a reflection of the entrepreneurial nature of the economy. As a tool for deploying a particular technology or assisting a national priority, an agency looks for the best standard; the source is not the issue. She asserted that ANSI serves an important role in fostering collaboration and has done a lot to facilitate discussions on this issue, but cannot be put in the position of jury to decide what is duplicative or conflicting or to force standards developers to act one way or another.

The second panel was led by Neil Bogatz of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and offered the perspective of standards developing organizations (SDOs), including ANSI-accredited standards developers and consortia. Issues discussed included the drivers for developing a standard, coordination, and duplication.

Kathie Morgan of ASTM International stressed that coherency is the collective responsibility of the global standards community. She also supported the development of a global standards database with current and comprehensive information on approved standards as well as work in progress provided by all developers to assist coordination efforts. Claire Ramspeck of ASHRAE pointed out that the NSSN standards database is being further developed and enhanced, and its improvements should be well publicized to foster greater usage. ANSI is currently at work on this upgrade, as was discussed by Bob Hager in a presentation later in the workshop.

Andy Updegrove of Gesmer Updegrove provided insight into the world of consortia, emphasizing that almost every week there is a new body developing ICT standards. He further explained that developers have an obligation to the market to create useful standards, and those will be the ones widely adopted. Karen Higginbottom from ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1 shed some more light into the ICT perspective, stressing the importance of reaching out to and collaborating with the many different standardization efforts competing in the marketplace.

The final panel presented the perspectives of specifiers of standards, including those involved in regulation and procurement. NIST's Gordon Gillerman moderated the discussion on how standards are chosen for government programs, participation in development, and duplication as related to standards enforced by law or regulation. Mr. Gillerman indicated that the same attributes that make the consensus standards process successful such as openess, consideration of alternative perspectives, and a commitment to continual improvement will serve the US Standards System well as we address this complex issue.

In describing her work with the U.S. Department of Energy's Superior Energy Performance (SEP) program, Aimee McKane of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory stressed that her program relies upon both national and international standards as well as ANSI accreditation to assess conformance to those standards. Bill Dupler provided insight into the code-creation process of Chesterfield County, Virginia, explaining that in choosing standards you can have it both ways - sometimes you only need one, sometimes multiple standards are a benefit.

Dr. Mary McKiel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that as specifiers of standards, federal regulatory agencies use a variety of approaches, both in the use of non-government standards and in requesting their development. Regulators specify what they need according to the mandates they have to fulfill, and they use non-government standards that best serve the intent of regulations or non-regulatory capacity-building programs. Likewise, in procurement programs, while there are laws governing federal acquisition, departments and agencies can and do use a wide variety of standards to meet program needs. She emphasized that one size certainly does not fit all. Dr. McKiel and Mr. Gillerman agreed that a systems engineering approach can be most useful. Dr. Mckiel also highlighted the value of a multiple path approach.

A library of workshop documents is available here. To view a slide show of photos, click here.

ANSI is developing a workshop report to summarize the event's discussions. Once completed, the report will be freely available at


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


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Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


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