The Importance of Standards Part 2By: Heather Petersen
Greg Kohn spent more than a decade with the IEEE Standards Association before joining Virtual, Inc., where he leads teams that support more than 40 different trade associations primarily in the technology sector. As an advisor to the xDTM Standard Association, we asked him to give us his perspective on the importance of standards in digital transaction management.
How have standards bodies in the past made an impact?
Standards bodies, historically, have had a huge impact on everyday life. A good example of standards is the Underwriters Laboratories. UL writes standards covering a wide variety of products used by consumers and businesses, from light switches to lasers. You plug in a gadget and you just expect it to work. And you also expect that you have some degree of safety around it, that you’re not going to get electrocuted. And that’s really the essence of what standards are across all different industries and all different use cases. You need to basically give the end user or the consumer a degree of trust in the products that they’re using that are based on standards.
What do you think the future is for standards in general, and what do the trends suggest?
What I’m seeing, whether it’s informal standards organizations or industry standards groups, is a tremendous amount of interconnectedness between standards and standards activities. There is a significant amount of interplay between different technologies, including security and network connectivity. And, as a result, standards organizations are spending a lot more time than they ever did talking to each other and understanding how everything relates and connects to each other. When different standards efforts can figure out ways to work together and collaborate, generally everyone wins because it saves time and money.
What is the risk if there are no standards around digital transactions?
So if I’m a consumer and I get a digital document that I have to sign, I wonder: Is it safe? Is it something that I can trust? Should I go ahead and sign it? What happens after that? And if that same solution or document is provided to me, and I know very clearly that it’s based on standards that the industry has come together to define, that gives me a sense of trust that I can go ahead and sign it, that it’s secure, it’s protected, and I can always get that document again when I need it. If consumers cannot have that strong level assurance in the systems they are using, the transition from paper to digital transactions is not going to happen at the rate that it’s currently happening. And I think that would be detrimental to the industry and to consumers at large.
Why is now a great time to set a standard for digital transaction management?
By creating standards now, while the market is still emerging, you’re going to be able to give customers the assurances that they need, so that the marketplace can continue to evolve and the technology can continue to proliferate. If we wait until the marketplace understands problems or starts to see problems in the solutions that they’re using, frankly, at that point, it’s too late. Trying to bring the industry together at that point to try to solve those problems just becomes that much harder. So trying to get out in front of those kinds of challenges within an industry group that has broad cross-representation is a really good idea, and doing it as early as possible is an even better idea. I think xDTM is on the right track of doing it now at the leading edge of where the industry is going.
So let’s talk about xDTM and how it’s evolved.
I think xDTM has taken a great approach toward coming together to try to build a standard to make sure that digital transaction management keeps evolving as a technology. Essentially, a core group of players in the digital transaction space came together, identified some problems or challenges that they felt standards could meet, and then they took the really important and critical next step of bringing together a critical body of players from different segments of the industry to sit down in a room a couple of different times and figure out what they needed to do as an organization.
So what do you find unique about xDTM?
What I find unique about the xDTM Initiative and the governing board that’s been pulled together is just that they’re singular in purpose and focus, which you don’t always find in these kinds of organizations. Second, they’ve assembled a really strong cross-section of different perspectives from the industry. And they’re taking the right approach towards standardization. They started with building requirements through their standards framework, and then moved that framework into the technical work of writing the specifications. And that’s important, because the most critical driver of standards is business need and market need. So xDTM is taking the correct approach of getting the right people in the room to define those business requirements and the business needs, and then using the right process organizationally to make sure that there’s a logical and seamless flow from requirements into standards, and then, ultimately, into certification and insurance activities.