Saturday, September 08, 2007

An Open Letter to ISO


Is it time to standardize ISO?

In light of the recent events relating to the standardization process of EOOXML, it seems appropriate to look into possible standardization of the process itself.

The DIS 29500 (EOOXML) process has revealed several shortcomings, both on the national level and on the level of ISO.

The organisations representing each country have very different procedures for determining the nation’s vote in ISO. Some countries will vote only if their technical committee is unanimous on the issue. Others will reach consensus defined by a 3/4 majority vote or even 2/3 majority. In some countries there is no vote and the technical committee is only advisory to the national standards organisation. Others yet have a two-stage process where the nations vote is determined through two committees. In short there is no standard for accepting a standard.

It seems ISO is not prepared for a politicized process where a big and influential commercial enterprise will use any means possible to push its own standard through to certification.

Committees are flooded by the vendor in support of the standard. Votes are bought and results are hijacked. Several national bodies have flawed and skewed procedures open for corruption.

The list is much longer, but a few examples should suffice:

Norway - originally a process decided by unanimity but altered on the fly
Sweden - voting seats bought and the result thus hijacked
Switzerland - process rigged in favor of the vendor, the chairman excluded the option of voting “reject” or “reject, with comments”
Portugal - process skewed by blaming on lack of available chairs
Malaysia - two committees voted unanimously “rejection with comments” and mysteriously overturned by the government to “abstain”

Even if this is the tip of an ice berg, the examples should warrant a thorough examination of the national processes.

The fact that ISO enforces no standard for national bodies opens the standardization process for manipulation or corruption. I strongly urge ISO to adopt a strict policy for its members detailing the rules for how a national body shall determine its vote in ISO and that it enforces such policy vigorously.

On the level of ISO, criticism has been raised against the fast track process. An investigation should be called to see if EOOXML was unduly put on the ISO Fast Track.

During the Fast Track, many new countries have joined as P-Members (Participating members) in the technical committee, the JTC1. Several of the countries have no credible track on standardization work, have joined very late in the process only to vote an unconditional “Yes” to a standard that has obvious room for improvement. It may be purely coincidental that the countries that came late in the process score much lower on the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International. It is possible to corrupt the process by pressuring countries to join a process and vote without sufficient knowledge. I urge ISO to adopt a policy that P-members may not be accepted later than 3 months before the committee is to vote.

It may be time also to reevaluate the one country one vote principle. In ISO, the Chinese vote carries the same weight as that of Cyprus. In the JTC1/SC34 the late-comers includes Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Côte-d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Lebanon and Malta.

As for approving standards within the field of IT, ISO would greatly benefit from adopting the IETF requirment of two independent reference implementations for passing a standard. This should increase the quality of ISO’s IT standards.

The strength, integrity and scalability of ISO have been tested. The organizations agility and adaptability will now be measured. May ISO move quickly to fix its own PR and more importantly its own standardization process.

The publicity that ISO has been given through the DIS 29500 process is phenomenal. ISO and standardization in general has reached a peak in public awareness. I hope the organization will use this publicity to show strong integrity and potential.

The intent of this letter is to safeguard future standardization and to ensure that the processes scale in the face of increased pressure from large commercial interests.

No comments :