Reflections of a week of ISO/IEC JTC1 meeting in Belfast


Interesting meeting and great opportunity to meet with people who to me seem to be caught in a world that has seen it’s glory days. I was asked by the Singapore IT Standards Committee to attend as a representative from Singapore. Nice to have an opportunity to represent Singapore at a global stage.

The ISO‘s and the IEC‘s baby ISO/IEC JTC1 just concluded it’s 25th annual plenary in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The meeting lasted from 9am Monday November 8th till about noon Satuday November 13th at the Europa Hotel.  Five and half days of meetings (9am-5pm daily), was needed to ensure that all of the Sub-committees (SCs) and various Working Groups (WGs) were able to update the JTC1 on what they have been able to do over that last twelve months in the various standards making activities. 
Many topics were covered.  Cloud computing and green IT were the top two areas of interest and in need for standards. It is crucial that standards are developed and these ensure that customers cannot be locked-in.  I am agreeable with the notion that the Cloud has the potential to be the mother of all lock-ins [I am not saying this because that link quotes the CEO of Red Hat (where I work), but because it is the big elephant in the room.]
International standards making has some interesting artifacts.  The entities that help make these standards (ISO, IEC, ECMA etc) have as one of their key components in their revenue model, the sale of printed documents containing the standards! I must note that not all of the standards bodies have “sale of printed documents” as a key portion of their revenue model (see IETF, W3C for example). However, the group whose meeting I was in, JTC1, is struggling with the notion of making the standards documents freely downloadable, while parent organization of JTC1 (ISO and IEC) are against it. The plenary did put up a resolution asking that JTC1 standards be kept free of charge to download (and if someone wants a dead-tree version, then pay for it). The continuing resistance from ISO and IEC in making this happen will ultimately see the irrelevance of JTC1 as a IT standards making entity. Perhaps a generational change is needed in the management and leadership of ISO and IEC for this to happen, by which time, I reckon, it will be too late.
Enough of doomsday stuff.  
I must record here that I am really pleased that as part of the outcome of this year’s plenary, there was a recognition that the collaboration tools that the JTC1’s constitutent groups use are not as good as can be.  They use some tool called Livelink (I think) and lots of conference calls etc.  The plenary resolved that they need to have better tools to help with collaboration and there was a call to set up an Ad-Hoc Group (AHG – yes these standards bodies LOVE their acronyms). Singapore, France and a few other countries and SCs offered to be on the AHG and, Singapore offered to chair it and I am happy to say that I will be chairing this global effort to improve the tools that standards-making groups can use to do their work.  I am looking forward to making this happen – I have to report back at the next plenary in November 2011 in San Diego.
I will be tapping on my colleagues in Red Hat and the greater open source community and trying to use the principles in The Open Source Way. Surely, tools like wikis, etherpad, irc chats etc can signifcantly improve the communications and collaboration.  It is quite sad to see word processor-based documents being emailed around as the basis of discussions etc.  Where is the single source of truth of these documents?
So, if anyone there has ideas on easy and robust collaboration tools, tell me. I have to convene a meeting of the AHG to look at these and I certainly want to use quality tools to make it happen. If these tools are open sourced, it will be so much better.

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