Strategic Standards Management: Enhancing Academic Training

New Website Debuts, Hosted by Northwestern University

Sandards are boring and should just be left to standards developers.

At least that is what many clearly think. Despite the best efforts of ASTM International and other standards organizations, and despite the emergence of new technologies, increased global competition and other factors that enhance the significance of standards, coverage of their strategic importance and the value of participation in standards development remains poor in post-secondary education. In engineering schools, where standards are often relegated to brief mention as an aspect of technical design, and in business schools — particularly in the United States — standards are, by and large, not part of the curriculum.

A growing number of standards-related publications and teaching materials are being developed, but these are insufficiently recognized and accessed by faculty and managers who are not already involved with standards. Few papers in mainstream publications address standards; case studies that could be used in a business course are limited. Many papers dealing with other management issues that could have potential relevance to standards are also not recognized, either by the authors or the standards community.

In an attempt to overcome these deficiencies, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been sponsoring a series of workshops (one hosted by Northwestern University, another by the University of California, Los Angeles, with two more planned) carried out by the industry-academic Global Advanced Technology and Innovation Consortium. Building on attendee recommendations, a unique and comprehensive website has been developed, the intent of which is to stimulate and support the teaching of standardization in the college and university environment. (Of course, the site also has value for industry managers already engaged in standards development or impacted by standards.)

The site, Strategic Standards Management is hosted by Northwestern, in collaboration with GATIC. Already well-received, the site presents standards in the context of critical business decisions and topics that are getting attention in the media. These include complex systems requiring standards for integration and interoperability with topics such as:

  • Innovation/entrepreneurship;
  • Supply chain/value chain/alliances/ecology;
  • Smart systems; and
  • Sustainability.

The site also considers general challenges in standards development. Engineering design (including dominant design) is considered as an important aspect of these topics.

Although some materials are hosted on the site, for the most part links are provided to materials on other sites, including ASTM International’s, thus broadening their audiences. In this way, the site provides access to related papers and to teaching materials, including course modules, teaching videos and a simple standards negotiation exercise developed by Northwestern, Georgetown University and IP-Shield/SES — the Society for Standards Professionals/Purdue. The site also includes a discussion forum, which requires only a simple registration process to participate, with sections and prompts related to targeted areas as well as open discussion on teaching implications.

A high powered, diverse and active site advisory group includes 20 academic and industry experts on standards as well as the target context areas. These include senior personnel from Harvard, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, UCLA, San Jose State University, IBM, Intel, and Rockwell Automation. In addition to ASTM International, which is represented by James Olshefsky, we have collaboration from such key organizations as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), UL (Underwriters Laboratories), the American National Standards Institute, with others, including non-standards oriented associations, expected shortly.

The site is intended to grow organically through contributions from users and to stimulate action. Events are announced and collaborators report on activity. Now in the works are webinars and a proposed comprehensive simulation to be developed with industry and implemented on the site. This will go well beyond the current negotiation-based games, taking users from the complex initial strategic decisions, bringing out standards requirements, to negotiations and then through to assessment of compliance implications. Online updates will make the program dynamic, reflect reality and challenge assumptions.

We invite all ASTM International members to make use of the site, to join the discussion, and ask you to invite your standards and non-standards friends to do the same.

At Northwestern University for 30 years, Jeffrey Strauss is associate director of the Center for Technology and Innovation Management within the university-wide Buffet Center for International and Comparative Studies; he has particular responsibility for activity involving industry. Strauss is a member of the American National Standards Institute Committee on Education and the equivalent in IEEE. He spearheads National Institute of Standards and Technology-supported initiatives to develop teaching modules and exercises and to conduct industry-academic workshops that enhance attention to standards in business and engineering curricula. Strauss teaches graduate, undergraduate and continuing education courses.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.