By : Jim Pinto,
By : Jim Pinto,
Standards are intrinsically difficult to implement and adopt. End-users cannot drive standards; supplier involvement compounds the confusion. The role of standards coordinator is best served by a neutral third-party. For industrial automation, the best choice is the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA).
Automation World, September 2005
Standards are intrinsically difficult to implement and adopt. Everyone agrees that you need them; but then, everyone has conflicting requirements.
End-users want standards because, more than anything else, they provide interoperability and reduce dependence on any specific supplier. For this very reason, suppliers only pretend to support standards, when, in reality, the ones they really promote are those that give them a distinct proprietary advantage. This dichotomy is succinctly expressed by a couple of verses from one of my fieldbus poems:
The Users want an Open bus
They push and threaten, beg and plead
“Interoperable” is what they need
The widgets made by Vendor A
With Vendor B must plug and play
The Vendors swear they all agree
Industrial automation is a specialty niche, complicated by several conflicting issues. Performance and price limitations, plus technical confusion, limit spread beyond narrow applications environments. For example, for industrial networking, there are several standards (notice the dichotomy in that statement). The international “fieldbus” committee actually approved eight different standards, some of them directly competitive. This was evidently a compromise; one must assume that the decision to approve several standards was made primarily to put an end to the conflict and allow the market to decide which standards achieved the broadest adoption.
End-users cannot drive standards; there are few users big enough to set standards independently, and cooperation through user-committees merely results in analysis paralysis. Vendor involvement compounds the confusion because they simply promote their own preferences.
Suppliers cannot openly promote standards where they have a clear edge, because that inhibits adoption by competitive suppliers. So, major suppliers entice others to adopt their technology through promoting “open standards associations.” They “donate” sufficient information for others to develop a broad range of products, but maintain their advantage through ownership of key intellectual properties (such as application-specific integrated circuits and embedded software).
The role of standards coordinator is best served by a neutral third-party organization, which can mediate effectively and is fair to all. For industrial automation, the best choice is the Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society (ISA).
ISA is already globally recognized as a standards writing organization. It has developed consensus standards for automation, security, safety, batch control, control valves, fieldbus, environmental conditions, measurement and symbols. Accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), ISA has published more than 135 standards, recommended practices and technical reports. Its Standards and Practices involvement is one of the organization’s major services to the automation industry.
Ensuring balanceISA standards development processes are less about policing and more about finding ways to ensure that committees have a good balance of suppliers, end-users and other industry participants. This results in standards that do not favor one industry segment or type of knowledge, but are helpful to the industry as a whole.
It’s important that standards are developed quickly to benefit the industry before the technology becomes obsolete. ISA has developed good processes that help committees to speed the publication of standards towards successful industry implementation.
In my opinion, development and publication of Standards and Practices (S&P) is one of ISA’s most important and beneficial services to its members, and to the automation business.
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