"Commerce, entertainment, education all run on the Web, because we maintained it as open," said Jeff Jaffe, CEO of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). "The impact the Web has had on humanity and commerce has been fantastic, in large part because it has continued to evolve and improve with standards."
World Standards Day may also be a time to appreciate the increasing challenges faced by standards bodies. Technologies seem to be evolving at an ever-accelerating pace, and growing ever more complex.
An increasing number of standards are being developed to help build what Saunders calls systems-of-systems. Cloud computing, which rests on many layers of standards, is one example of a system-of-systems, as is health IT, the smart grid and some areas of nanotechnology. "Technology solutions are more complex," Saunders said.
"Even 10 years ago, most standardization was about how a product conforms to a performance requirement or a service. [But] interoperability is a huge driver today, and that is a relatively new feature," Saunders said.
Today, for instance, the W3C is extending its standards for rendering Web pages, such as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), so that the Web can host entire Web applications, ones that can run across multiple computing platforms.
"It is in the nature of companies to compete in areas they see differential value for themselves, and to collaborate in areas where they will all benefit in collaboration. For the Web platform, there is a clear conclusion that collaboration wins big-time," Jaffe said.
Another new driver for standards bodies is globalization. Today, companies want to market their wares and services around the globe, and so they need global standards. The obvious example might be how the Unicode character set is slowly replacing the smaller, English-centered ANSI set. "Most industries are looking to build single solutions for multiple markets," Bhatia said.
Of course, the old joke about standards is that they must be good, because there are so many of them. But, if anything, there are plenty of technologies that could use more standardization. Bhatia noted that the fledgling electric vehicle industry, for instance, would benefit from a set of standards around devices that charge the vehicles, so they work in the same way that gas pumps work now with all gas-driven vehicles.