Thursday, August 16, 2007

Australian Innovation Through Standards

These are some more thoughts on how Australia could better contribute to the development of global IT standards and also benefit the local economy. This is promoted by a visit from John Tucker, CEO, and John Castles, Chairman, of Standards Australia. They are in Canberra for a meeting with stakeholders in member organizations. On they way they are dropping in to visit me, as I am the Australian Computer Society's 's representative on the Standards Australia Council.

Making standards is a messy business, much like making laws, or as the
quote attributed to Bismark puts it: "To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.". However, better coordination of standards making is possible by using Web technology. This can make the process more open, transparent, inclusive and also less administratively expensive. Australia is a world leader in this technology area and it can help teach the world to make standards this way and earn income from emerging markets in India and China.

Some areas for more standards work in Australia might be:
  1. Web standards: The Australian Office of the W3C is located in Canberra at CSIRO (on the other side of my office wall). They encourage Australian input for Web standards. Coordination between SA and W3C might avoid the sort of controversy which has occurred with the ISO ballot on Office Open XML/OOXML ISO 29500.
  2. E-voting standards: In August the Federal Government announced trials by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) of electronic voting for the next election. The system to be used is developed by the same one which successfully built the system for Canberra local elections. Development of such systems is hampered in the USA, by a lack of standards. This could be an area Australia might make a useful contribution to the world.
  3. Social Networking: The online collaboration features built into systems such as the Moodle system used for ACS Education, for structured online discussion could be applied to standards making. This could be used not only for keeping online discussion from getting out of control, but also in a face to face meeting.
  4. E-publishing: The technology the ACS uses for its ACS Digital Library could be applied to standards development and distribution. The ACS now gives away publications online, while making money from them (at least to cover some of the costs). Technologies such as the Integrated Content Environment (ICE) can be used to build complex academic works and can be applied to standrads.
  5. Academic Input: The federal government is funding the development of advanced systems for academics to collaborate online and publish their results. This is being done though projects such as the Australian Partnership for Sustainable Repositories (APSR), with impetus from the Australian Research Quality Framework (RQF). Australian researchers are building systems for doing research, publish the results and then work out who should get the credit for the work (and money from the Australian Government). These techniques could be applied to standards making to help develop standards and reward academics involved with credit for their contribution.
  6. E-commerce: Standards development costs money and there is a need for funding. Some of the techniques for funding open source software development can be applied to standards work. In a way standards are a form of open source. Also web based e-commerce can be applied to pay the costs. As an example, where copies of standards are sold, those contributing to the process can receive a commission on sales. One systems, as used by, make this feasible.

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