ISA100.11a: Half Baked to a Schedule

Oct. 6, 2008
If this Standard's Not Done, It Shouldn't Be Leaving the Oven
By Walt Boyes, Editor in chief

When you are baking bread, and it isn’t done when the timer goes off, you leave it in the oven ‘til it is. The same thing happens with standards, through the comment and review process. For example, ISA99 just released for ballot Part 2 of the ISA99 standard, nearly a year after the last set of comments was provided for review. That’s a good time frame for a complex standard, what with the many comments that have to be integrated into the document in a consensus framework. It takes time, and the process cannot be hurried, just like you can’t hurry baking bread.

The first draft of the ISA100.11a standard ballot closed on June 2. There was a very close vote in favor, since the committee rules say you can vote “Yes, with comments.” Most standards bodies do not allow that kind of vote. Technical comments mean that the standard is not quite done and needs to go back into the oven for more baking. You are supposed to vote “No, with comments.”

2075 comments were received. A revised draft was published for internal comment and review by the committee late in the evening of September 10.

I find it difficult to imagine that the editorial group could possibly have integrated and responded to 2075 comments in just a little more than 90 calendar days. I have just barely had time to completely review the new draft, which is 725 pages long. By comparison, Eric Cosman, co-chair of ISA99 noted, “In the case of ISA99 Part 1 (a document of just under 100 pages), the standard went through four drafts, each consisting of multiple edits...All told, the document was revised and reissued over 20 times over a period of three years, with only three of these revisions going to full committee vote. The first vote was in early 2006, and the standard was approved in late 2007.”

Yet on September 12, ISA released the “revised” standard for a second, and potentially final, ballot. Why on earth would they do that? The ballot ends on October 11, just in time for ISA to announce an “approved ISA100.11a standard” at the ISA Expo, which begins on October 14.

Recently, a Formal Appeal was made over inconsistencies in the way previous votes were handled. The Appeal Board found that the inconsistencies had in fact taken place, and ruled that no votes should be taken until the Standards and Practices Board voted on its new rules. That vote was taken on September 9.

“The change in procedures that has the most immediate impact on ISA100,” as the ISA100 co-chairs note in the new ballot itself, “calls for a roster of voting members to be established for any committee subgroup (such as a subcommittee or working group) that will conduct ballots on documents. The main committee must approve the subgroup roster of voting members.”

The ISA100 co-chairs go on, “The immediate impact on our committee is that while WG3 had planned to issue the draft for another round of voting within the working group, to do so under these new procedures would add at least a one-month wait to approve the roster of the working group, taking the ballot beyond our meetings of Oct. 14-17 at ISA EXPO in Houston.”

And this would of course eliminate the ability of ISA to announce an “approved standard” in Houston in October.
So, despite the fact that the new draft is 750-odd pages long, and despite the fact that even the editors felt they were just circulating a draft for comment unofficially, ISA has declared the bread loaf baked.

It isn’t enough to write a standard that excludes WirelessHART. There must be a standard, any standard, whether it works or not. If that’s what we do, shame on us.