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Executive Summary r Crossroads of Information Technology Standards, a workshop attended by 60 experts, addressed the importance of standards to the information industries and their users. The experts represented a cross section of industry, government, and academia. The result of this two-day session was a broad consensus on several key aspects of the future of information technology standards. CONCLUSIONS Information technology products, both hardware and software, are a significant component of the goods sold by U. S. producers in the United States and in 1988 represented 12 percent of U.S. exports. In addition to directly contributing to the gross national product (GNP), information technology products and services are increasingly used by all industry to improve productivity in the areas that make up the rest of the GNP. Therefore, the workshop concluded that information technology is a major element in US. economic competiizveness. We can see in part what the twenty-first century will bring by looking today at the "islands" where modern information technology is bringing superior services to people. Many individual schools now have computers for accelerated learning, but these are not widely connected. Corporations constitute other islands with internal, private networks of telephones and computers. Hospitals make up still other islands, where administration is automated and even diagnosis is aided by computer. What a world it will be when the family doctor can access any hospital 1
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2 or university laboratory for diagnostic support. How efficient it will be when companies are tied to their suppliers and customers by computer for the perfect flow of material to and from their assembly lines. How creative it will be when even high school students can tap world libraries for answers. We can now extend our earlier vision of "affordable telephone service for all," already achieved, to a new national policy of "affordable information for all," which is yet to be achieved, through networking our systems of business, education, and knowledge. 1b implement such a new policy, we must reexamine our existing information infrastructure. This infrastructure consists of all public and private facilities for transporting information (telecommunications) along with the connected facilities for its logical processing and storage and the standards and regulations needed to make the infrastructure operational. Our present infrastructure can deliver almost any information at a price, but for many users, there are desired services that are not affordable either in monetary cost or the cost of the time required to learn and avail oneself of the service. Thus, to the extent that our information infrastructure falls short in these respects, a policy of "affordable information for all" will fall short. Meanwhile, other economic regions of the world aggressively pursue modern information technology. Accordingly, the workshop concluded that a strong information infrastructure within the United States is absolute) essential to our continued success as an advanced industrialized nation. The more information technology progresses beyond separate telecom- munications and computer industries toward an integrated technology, the more there is a need for things to work together. Not only must hardware be connected but software and data transport and processing applications must also interact. Therefore, the workshop concluded that standards are key to the development of a strong information technology infrastructure. Standards within the United States, as well as international standards, are agreed to by a consensus process. Many feel that the process is too slow and inhibits innovation. The workshop participants, many of whom have been involved with standards-making bodies, felt almost uniformly that the consensus process, with its checks and balances, is necessary. They felt that delays occur because top management does not appreciate the importance of rapid closure on individual standards so that we can all get on with developing the overall infrastructure. Industry leaders cannot give the necessary support to the standards process until they see the significance of an information technology in- frastructure and can be shown the place that each individual standard has therein. Therefore, the workshop came to the conclusion that the United States lacks the vision of afi~ture information technology infrastructure needed to drive standards activities. Users often see classes of products that they need before suppliers
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3 develop the products. Since use of the products requires compatibility standards, suppliers are sometimes reluctant to develop such products before the standards are agreed upon. Because such market pull, as contrasted to technology push, often occurs with inadequate response, the workshop concluded that the foremost challenge to the individual standards committees is to anticipate the application of technology rather than t7y to catch up. RECOMMENDATIONS The problem of moving forward with a modern information technology infrastructure must be recognized at the highest levels of government and industry, and it has not been. A compelling vision of what we want to achieve, embracing all aspects of computers and communication, is sorely needed and it does not exist. A high-level architecture and system plan for achieving a unifying vision is absolutely essential, and there is no entity or process in place for their development. Because of this need, the workshop recommends that: the Director of the Office of Science and Techrlology Policy should arrange for an ad hoc blat ribbon stuily by top-level people from in- dusoy and government to establish. a vision and high-level architecture for an info~afion technology infrastructure. Precedents exist for the establishment of similarly chartered advisory groups under government leadership. It was clear to everyone in the workshop that much more than vision and architecture are required to achieve actual implementation. In particu- lar, standards are absolutely necessary to achieving the ubiquity, openness, and connectivity that must be the attributes of any new infrastructure that encourages new services of all lands—voice, data, and video—and exploits our abilities to distribute information using modern hardware and software technology. Leadership of information technology standards by today's public stan- dards institutions is hampered, most of all, by the lack of a national vision. Adding to that problem is insufficient recognition and support of stan- dards by the top-level management of industry and government. While real motivation will help, there is much room for improving the process, including the introduction of life-cycle planning that responds quickly, even if imperfectly, and follows up with the resolution of problems through fast prototyping and the introduction of carefully phased enhancements. The consensus was that a revitalized American National Standards Institute (ANSI) could be equal to the challenge were its role to be enhanced. The workshop recommended that:
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4 The American National Standards Institute should strengthen its role-irl inform~fion networking by the addition of appro- priate top-lerel industry representatives to its management. It should extend its influence through the life cycle of stan- dards by proacfi~ely planning earlier action, streamlining the process, and supporting implemer~on agreements and prototyping. · It should strengthen its role in representing US. needs for baw7~aP~I standards. A SENSE OF URGENCY A sense of urgency about standards is required from top to bottom throughout the information technologies industry. This means setting aside at least some competitive tactics for the common good of all. The in- dustry executives must show leadership and make decisions when nearly equal choices are presented. They must buck the now apparent trend by regulators to let the market make decisions no matter how long that may take. If competitors do not find a win-win approach within existing legal constraints, they will be stuck with a lose-lose situation. It is important to note that this view that competitors need to work together extends to the international scene as well. A desire exists for more symmetry in our ability to understand and influence standards in other regions of the world. On the other hand, there is some recognition that we may not have taken full advantage of opportunities that already exist. While there would clearly be economic advantages when a U.S. tech- nology approach becomes the global standard, there was little support for the notion that United States should subscribe only to those international standards wherein the U.S. position has prevailed. A stronger consen- sus arose that the United States must contribute and participate in the standards developing process, understand international developments, and support globally accepted directions which would greatly facilitate an ef- ficient and free marketplace. Therefore, the objective of common, global standards achieved through the standards developing bodies should be supported, while the use of in-country, protectionist standards should be opposed. Information networking technology solutions cannot be imple- mented without a supporting standards architecture. It is vital to strengthen the U.S. standards process and the position of the United States in interna- tional standards developing bodies. The consensus-based standards setting in the United States needs to be more responsive to the needs of the larger marketplace of users and applications in applying and utilizing information age technology rather than to those of the narrower market of individual firms.
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