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Information 4.0: Why We Don’t Do Standards

Standard Deviation is a column all about standards—a subject that affects most of our lives, but that we seldom think about. As the title implies, I want to keep the conversation lively and engaging. I’m always looking for guest columnists, and we welcome feedback with comments or requests for standards-related topics to cover. Email me at rgallon4stc@culturecom.net.

By Ray Gallon | STC Senior Member

Over the last year, I have been working with colleagues to create a new entity called the Information 4.0 Consortium. You can find out what it’s about at www.information4zero.org, but in this column, I’m going to write about one thing that it’s not: a standards organization.

Anyone who has read this column or talked with me about the subject will know that I favor STC’s participation in standards development. But it’s important to remember that standards can never be a goal. Standards are something we develop when a need arises, to help us reach goals.

The Information 4.0 Consortium is concerned with ensuring that the developments grouped under the term, “Industry 4.0,” include information at the center of product conception and design, and that the humanistic aspects of accountability, responsibility, and reliability of information be taken into account from the start. When information is passed between connected objects, in codes that humans are incapable of reading, we need some way to maintain traceability. If we give machines the capacity to make autonomous decisions, then we need a record of who (or what) made a given decision and what that decision was, that we can search for and retrieve in human readable form, even decades later. Questions of interoperability and data conversion are bound to become important as these technologies advance.

So why wouldn’t a consortium like ours want to create standards? First of all, we’re not experts in it. But even more importantly, it makes no sense to create standards in a vacuum. Unless major industry players recognize a need to develop such standards, such efforts will be a wasted investment, and very probably not adapted to situations as they evolve.

For Information 4.0 we have two examples where standards are being developed in an organic fashion.

TEKOM, the European technical communication association, has been coordinating an effort to develop what is called iiRDS—the International Standard for Intelligent Information Request and Delivery. This standard arose in response to a need on the part of different CCMS vendors to exchange published documents among different, proprietary platforms. The standard defines metadata for requests, and packet formats for delivery. It is still in early phases of development, and developers can get a preview of it at https://iirds.tekom.de.

This standard speaks to a need that Information 4.0 will certainly have, though in its present format, it is probably too limited, so the Consortium hopes to participate in and contribute to its development as friends of the initiative, to help enlarge its scope.

In other news, a recent communication from the OASIS open standards body announced two new specifications by the members of the Biometric Services Technical Committee. One is a standard for Web Services using biometric devices. The other is a SOAP profile for Biometric Identity Assurance Services (BIAS) that “specifies the design concepts and architecture, data model and data dictionary, message structure and rules, and error handling necessary to invoke SOAP-based services that implement BIAS operations.” The announcement goes on to say that these standards

…provide an open framework for deploying and remotely invoking biometric-based identity assurance capabilities that can be readily accessed across an SOA infrastructure.

The emergence of web services as a common communications bus has profound implications for biometric services. The next generation will not only need to be intelligent, secure, tamper-proof, and spoof resistant, they will also need to be interoperable.

WS-Biometric Devices is a protocol designed to advance this goal, with a specific focus on the single process shared by all biometric systems.

Here again, a standard is developed and published by a recognized standards organization—one that publishes all its products as open source—in response to a perceived need.

Both these initiatives respond to requirements for Industry 4.0 technologies by creating services and protocols that can be shared among competitors to ensure interoperability (a pre-requisite for Industry 4.0) and security.

Put another way, people understood that they needed a standard, and got together to make one in order to meet their needs. This is a long way from deciding to create standards when no one has yet identified what they need them for or who will use them. Information 4.0 is committed to transparency and interoperability. The Consortium believes we will need standards to reach those goals—but what those standards might be, it is way too early to tell. When the need for them arises, we will seek to work with organizations like OASIS, STC, and TEKOM to see that they get developed in ways that will ensure their widespread dissemination and acceptance.

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