Standards Are Bad!

Aug. 1, 2006
There are no real standards for e-seals. Each one operates in a proprietary mode and each offering has different capabilities. That may not be a bad thing.

I know that I have stood on the stump more than once and extolled the virtues of globally-recognized standards.

I know I have repeatedly pointed out, over the years, how industries can leverage the countless hours that went into producing globally-recognized bar code and RFID standards to develop their own industry subsets that are (relatively) easy for companies to implement.

I have mentioned my own involvement with standards committees and that the selfless dedication and hours of work by committee members go mostly unheralded.

I know that some of you even remember the "bad old days" in bar code history—before real standardization took hold—when individual company requirements were so varied that each company's bar code shipping label had to be individually designed and the ensuing label logistics nightmare.

And yet, here and now, I say, "Standards Are Bad!" Why?

Because "Standard Is Good."

What brings this on? The announcement that a new, non-profit group (that I shall not name) has been formed to develop standards for electronic container seals (e-seals).

Now, e-seals are wonderful things since they can record not only the time that a shipment was tampered with through the main door, but some even include light, temperature, pressure and humidity sensors to indicate that a breach occurred even if the door seal itself is intact.

And it's true that there are no real standards for e-seals. Each one operates in a proprietary mode and each offering has different capabilities. And that may not be a bad thing. What would be a good thing would be for all these e-seals to communicate using a standard protocol and data structure so that yards— and government inspectors—wouldn't have to have multiple readers for e-seals.

So, why am I against the formation of a group to develop standards for e-seals? Two reasons: first, because there is already a group at the ISO level that is tasked with developing e-seal standards and, second, because the new group does not include all the players in the e-seal community. This raises the specter of an ad hoc standard being developed by a select group that may not meet the required rigorous development policies of international standards organizations. And that means the possibility of two "standards" being developed.

Standards Are Bad. Standard Is Good. Admittedly, there are a number of standards groups whose activities duplicate the charters of various ISO and ISO/IEC JTC-1 groups*—AIM's RFID Experts Group (REG) and Technical Symbology Committee (TSC) to name just two. However, the output of these groups has either been solicited by various international working bodies or is intended as a contribution to these bodies.

AIM's REG, for example, has just submitted two Preliminary Draft Technical Reports for consideration by JTC-1. All AIM Symbology Specifications are destined to become ANSI and then ISO/IEC standards. EPCglobal's Gen2 UHF protocol was eventually vetted through JTC-1. AIM and similar international trade and professional organizations are, in fact, accredited standards developers and have official status with ISO and ISO/IEC JTC-1.

Admittedly, there is no indication whether this new group intends to submit its work to ISO or not—but its initial press release should have given a clue. It did not. One can only hope that they get enough push-back to realize that developing a contribution to ISO might be welcomed but developing their own standard would not.

Standards Are Bad. Standard Is Good.

Bert Moore is a 20-year veteran of the AIDC industry. He is currently director of IDAT Consulting & Education, Alpharetta, Ga.

* STANDARDS ORGANIZATIONS: ISO = the International Organization for Standards IEC = the International Electro-technical Commission ISO/IEC JTC-1 = Joint Technical Committee 1 that addresses issues that fall in the overlap of the purviews of ISO and IEC

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