Friday, April 25, 2008

New Business Model Needed for Australian Standards

Standards Australia, a non-government body which develops standards in Australia, has released "Introducing a New Business Model for Standards Australia" (April 08). Unfortunately I found the jargon in this document almost incomprehensible. It does not appear to address two issues which limit SA's role in ICT standards: open participation and open access. SA needs to adopt online standards development processes and provide copies of standards free online, if it wishes to remain in the ICT standards development business beyond the end of 2008.

I can participate in development of ICT standards online with a number of organisations around the world and obtain the standards produced free online. In contrast I can't participate in SA standards processes unless I attend meetings and I can't get copies of developed standards unless I pay money. As a result I no longer participate in SA standards development, nor do I recommend to my university students or colleagues that they use SA standards.

Some of these problems were brought to public attention with the controversy over standardization of OOXML. SA's processes were shown to be unable to deal with the issue.

The Australian ICT community needs to decide what is a suitable business model for standards development. Standards Australia was developed based on a business model which saw funding come from the sale of paper copies of standards, as well as from member subscriptions and some government support. However, after floating its publishing arm as SAI Global in 2003, only a small proportion of Standards Australia's income now comes from the sale of standards (about 16%).

It would be feasible for SA to pilot a low cost online standards process, which provided the standards for free online. SA could also facilitate the involvement of Australian experts in standards processes of international bodies.

The lower cost of online standards development, along with opportunity for online sponsorship, should more than make up for any loss in revenue from sales of standards. SAI Global could take the opportunity to provide services to complement the free standards, so that it does not suffer financially from the loss of standards sales.

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