Support your local standards organization...they make our lives easier

I received a news release from Tom Clary at Invensys this morning that got me thinking. It announced that IPS was hosting the ISA95 standard meetings next week:

Invensys Process Systems (IPS) is hosting an international meeting of enterprise integration standards experts at its headquarters in Plano, Texas, January 27-30, 2009.

At this annual review meeting, the SP95 Standards committee of the International Society of Automation (ISA) gathers with representative of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and International Organization for Standards (ISO) joint committees to develop global industry specifications for manufacturing operations management systems, including manufacturing execution systems (MES), laboratory information management systems (LIMS), warehouse management systems (WMS), and maintenance management systems (MMS).

There was more, but that's the gist of it. Every year, vendor, end user and general interest parties spend thousands of dollars sending people to standards meetings. And as we have globalized, it has gotten even more expensive. For example, the next two ISA100 meetings will be in Salzburg, Austria and Kyoto, Japan. Putman Media indulges my desire to work on standards by funding me to attend many meetings of the standards I am working on.

Sure, there's benefit to Putman Media in doing this. I make contacts, report better, and so forth. But as a journalist I don't have to get involved in standards meetings. Most of the other automation journalists have not done so.

So why do vendor companies spend money on standards? Sometimes it is to ensure that either the standard will bend the way they want it to, or to prevent it from excluding the way that particular vendor solves the problem that the standard addresses. But the amount of money it costs to send anywhere from two to seven people to a standards meeting dwarfs most of the return on those investments. There's a heavy dose of altruism in that effort.

And the same thing is true for end user companies. Standards are good for end users. They allow an end user to start in the middle, if you will, instead of having to evaluate every product individually. They reference a standard, and enforce compliance, and they have a leg up in their design efforts. And if there's a single standard they can adopt, it radically reduces operations and maintenance costs, as well as the possibility of failures due to different designs.

So, getting to the point, in these nasty economic times, it is still important to support the standards effort and keep sending your people to work on standards. Your operators, engineers, and plant managers will thank you.