I had an interesting discussion today with a key player in the development of a large, quite successful industry-specific standard by an industry consortium with representation from all the key stakeholders. I was surprised that he was less than sanguine about the standard: a common vocabulary was being used by multiple groups each making a schema for their particular sectoral use case, so it looked quite healthy.
But my contact had two particular gripes. The first was that the standardization process was addicted to making new vocabulary items, to the extent that talking about standardizing other things had never worked: the consortium was for making schemas not solving problems! In particular, while there was a lot of attention paid to describing what each field meant, there was no facility for comparison or identification: to say that “this address is that address” or “this person is that person” or “this agent is that agent” except by accidental string matching. So electronic forms using these schemas could be filled out, but data could never be integrated.
The second gripes comes out of the first. Because of the lack of ability to integrate and identify data, it all had to be kept together or messaged around in a bunch. So the schema for a complex process has to include fields for everything in that process except for trade secret fields, which wouldn’t be interchanged anyway: the consortium is made up from fierce competitors with a religious belief that their internal processes will be different from the internal processes of any other company in the same industry. Originally many participants would not even disclose the field names in their databases, they regarded them as so important—only to find that ther field for address was not so interestingly different from their competitor’s equivalent field.
So the result: kitchen sink standards that include so many optional or process-particular fields that the consortium is now having a problem that not enough vendors are able to implement the whole thing. However, underlying this is the problem that without even a simple process model, where each stage of the process could have a fat-trimmed or specific schema, one size has to fit all.
So my contact actually saw the standard as dying rather than thriving: the mania for new elements and structures bloating the project in the direction of unworkability coupled with a refusal to look at standardizing even basic process models or identity/tracking/aggregation capabilities.