Ever wondered about the process that creates an ISO standard? Or even who ISO is? Here are the answers to some of those questions.

At the International Standards Organization (ISO) the standards for our industry fall in the Information Technology area. A committee called JTC1 (Joint Technical Committee 1), uniting the various groups within ISO and IEC (International Electrotechnical Committee), has been formed for all IT (Information Technology) standards. The Sub-Committee that is responsible for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC) is SC31. The secretary for this international committee is GS 1 US (was UCC), with AIM acting as the administrator for the United States national position. The process to create an ISO standard is complicated and based on a seven step process:

• Stage 0 (preliminary stage): A study period is underway.
• Stage 1 (proposal stage): An NP (New Project) is under consideration.
• Stage 2 (preparatory stage): A WD (Working Draft) is under consideration.
• Stage 3 (committee stage): A CD (Committee Draft) is under consideration.
• Stage 4 (enquiry stage): An DIS (Draft International Standard) is under consideration.
• Stage 5 (approval stage): An FDIS (Final Draft International Standard) is under consideration.
• Stage 6 (publication stage): An IS (International Standard) is being prepared for publication.

    These seven steps form the foundation for the creation of an ISO standard, so we will go through each one in turn to better understand the process.

    Stage 0 (preliminary stage): This is a time when a group of people think that there may be a need for a standard. It is an optional stage in the process, and usually only occurs when there is agreement that standardization is likely, but there are no specific projects identified. Often with emerging technologies there is insufficient information and the time line is not firm. This stage allows a workgroup to create a plan and get international approval for standardization before significant amounts of effort are expended.

    Stage 1 (proposal stage): This starts with the submission of a proposal for a new work item (NWIP). It can be submitted by JTC 1, a National Body (NB) (USA, UK etc.), a subcommittee (SC) or Technical Committee (TC), or certain liaison members of JTC 1. An NP document includes enough information about the project to allow a NB to decide if it is going to participate in a project. This information includes the obvious things like title, scope, and program of work as well as a business case that sets out the purpose and justification for doing the standardization. Once an NP is submitted, all the NBs in JTC 1 have to vote on accepting the work. This is a three month ballot. In order to be accepted, a majority of the P (Principal) members of JTC 1 must approve the work and at least five P members must agree to participate in the work. (Participation does not mean that an NB will attend meetings or prepare documents., they may only review documents. Not every NB must participate in every standard at the working level, though all P members have a vote to approve the work). The outcome of this stage is an approved project.

    Stage 2 (preparatory stage): After approval of the NP, it is assigned to a subcommittee for the work to be done. The subcommittee establishes a working group (or assigns the work to an existing working group) to take responsibility, the working group identifies a project editor for the project, and work commences to create a document. This working draft (WD) will typically go through several revisions as more of the technical detail is created and consensus of the group is achieved. This process can take some time, and so JTC 1 has some procedures to flag anything that is still in this stage at the third year anniversary of the NP date. At some point the working group decides that the document is materially complete (main elements included), it is in a format approximating a standard, and there is consensus as to its content. The deliverable from this stage is a recommendation from the working group that the WD be sent for registration as a Committee Draft (CD).

    Stage 3 (committee stage): The document is forwarded by the SC into JTC 1 for registration as a CD and the work of the working group is complete. The document is put up for CD ballot as many times as needed to get enough consensus that the document si correct and complete. A first CD ballot is a 2, 3, or 4 month ballot, subsequent CD ballots (if needed) are all 3 months duration. The National Bodies provide comments on the document. After the close of the ballot the SC forms a Comment Resolution Group that holds a meeting (CRM) that is required to consider every comment made and produce a disposition of comments report that explains their reasons for their actions (the CRM is not required to accept all the comments, but they must explain their decisions). Following a successful CD ballot the deliverable is a recommendation to send the document for registration for Draft International Standard (DIS) ballot.

    Stage 4 (enquiry stage): The document is now sent out for a DIS ballot. This ballot is a five month ballot. National Bodies may vote yes, no, or abstain. They may include comments with their ballot. The chairman of the committee will produce a report to show how all comments are resolved. For the document to be approved it must receive a two-thirds majority approval of the P-members voting and not more than one-quarter of the total votes cast can be negative. If no negative votes are received the document can be sent straight to publication. If the document is approved it can be sent to FDIS ballot. If the approval criteria is not met, then the document will be sent around for CD or DIS ballot again after modification by the comments. The deliverable from this stage is another recommendation.

    Stage 5 (approval stage): The document is now sent out for a FDIS ballot. This is a two month ballot, that requires at least two thirds of the P members approval, along with no more than one-quarter of the total number of cast votes being negative. The vote can only be approval or disapproval (for stated technical reasons) and abstention. If the vote fails, the document goes back to the CD stage. If it passes only minor editorial changes are possible to the document before it goes to the next stage and is published. The deliverable from this stage is a decision to publish or send back to the system.

    Stage 6 (publication stage): The document is finally sent to JTC 1 to be published.

    As you can see, the process takes time. The balloting process alone takes a minimum of 12 months in ballots alone, assuming that there are no needs for multiple CD or DIS ballots. With the extra time taken to actually write the technical details of the standard and get consensus about the content, you can see that the standardization process is not a quick one.

    To summarize, the project may go through a study period, the outcome of which is an NWIP. The NWIP goes for a three month ballot. If approved it goes into a workgroup for a period of time (one to three years typically). The document then goes through a CD ballot (three months minimum), followed by a DIS ballot (four months minimum), followed by a FDIS ballot (two months), followed by publication. So we typically have a two to four year time period to create a standard.

    This brief summary, shows you the stages that a project goes through in the JTC 1 arena. It does not cover all the possibilities, but is the most common path. The full text of the directives is available.

    There are a couple of ways to short circuit the seven step process that I detailed above and there are advantages and disadvantages to each of them.

    1. During stage one, a working draft can be submitted with the NP. If approved this can considerably shorten the process time for the document in committee as a working draft. The document is usually created by someone who is knowledgeable about the subject and who is able to do much of the work without the aid of the working group. This approach is an excellent one for many projects, as there usually is someone more knowledgeable than others in the early stages (the inventor for example). Now when the workgroup start work they have a document before them from day one, and we all know that it is much easier to find fault with an existing document than it is to create a new one. If the standard is a straight forward one, this can reduce the time as a working draft by a significant amount of time.

    2. If there has been a de-facto standard for some time before the submission of the NWIP, it may be possible to submit a NWIP with a CD ballot. This method assumes that there is considerable reason to believe that the document is substantially correct and there are few changes likely to be made to the document. One disadvantage to this method is that the workgroup find themselves inheriting a document that has been created elsewhere and that they have little ability to influence. If this approach results in a successful ballot, the time to standardization has been considerably reduced. If it fails the CD part of the ballot but is accepted as an NP, then no time has been lost and work progresses normally. If it fails the NWIP ballot then it is no different from any other NP submission that fails. In order to get acceptance in the ballot a substantially complete and correct document is needed.

    3. The fastest way to create a standard is the Fast Track process. This process allows a P member of JTC1 or a category A liaison to submit am existing standard from any source effectively as a Draft International Standard (DIS). The ballot process is five months, and the P members can vote to accept it, to disapprove it with suggestions to make it acceptable, or to abstain. At least two thirds of the P members must approve it, with no more than one-quarter of the total number of votes cast being negative, and more than 50% of the P members voting. A ballot resolution meeting is scheduled for the conclusion of the vote and at the end of this meeting, if the above conditions are met, the document is said to have passed. All that is left is for the project editor to implement any changes agreed at the ballot resolution meeting and the document moves on to FDIS ballot followed by publication. If the DIS ballot fails then further action is decided by the SC that the work is attributed to.

    4. Another method to get a standard published is by using something called the PAS (Publicly Available Specification) method. This process allows a company or other organization, not normally recognized by JTC 1, to submit their own specifications for adoption as a standard. The company applies to JTC 1 for recognition as a PAS submitter. Once they are approved, they can submit any of their specifications into JTC 1 for recognition as a JTC 1 standard. The adoption process closely mirrors the Fast Track process as far as approval for the standard is concerned.

      This details the processes that can allow some shortcuts into the standard JTC 1 standardization procedures. Coupled with the standard seven step method detailed above, you should now understand all the options available for standardization within JTC 1.