IEEE Launches Industry Connections Formalizing Ad-Hoc Groups

The IEEE Standards Association's (IEEE-SA) new Industry Connections program provides a forum where interested parties can collaborate on industry focused work. The Industry Connections leverages the IEEE experience in organizing disparate groups addressing legal issues like intellectual property rights and anti-trust. The IEEE is also announcing the Industry Connections Security Group as the first group.

August 17, 2009

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The IEEE Standards Association's (IEEE-SA) new Industry Connections program provides a forum where interested parties can collaborate on industry focused work. The Industry Connections leverages the IEEE experience in organizing disparate groups addressing legal issues like intellectual property rights and anti-trust. The IEEE is also announcing the Industry Connections Security Group as the first group. The Industry Connections program is one more way the IEEE is trying to reinvent itself. The organization is great at working with vendors, but it needs to involve participation by other groups like enterprises, education,  and government.

The Industry Connections can be used for a number of activities. For example, prior to starting work on a standard, an argument or business has to be made demonstrating why a new standard must be developed. The business case has to be approved to that time and effort isn't wasted on unnecessary standards work.  An Industry Connection can facilitate the business case and provide some much needed thinking about the scope and goal of a standard before standards work begins. Jim Wendorf, a technology and standards consultant to the IEEE noted that often times when the standards work is done, the group is disbanded or languishes but there may be other issues that could be tackled which requires another round of set-up.

The hope is that the Industry Connection groups serves to address ongoing industry issues. Rather than herding the relevant parties together, an ongoing group can more easily bring up topics for discussion rather than getting the relevant parties together each time

For example, the Industry Connections Security  Group (ICSG), which includes AVG, McAfee, Microsoft, Sophos, Symantec, and Trend Micro, along with more than 30 other vendors, has been working for 6 months on a schema for sharing malware data. Jeff Green, SVP of McAfee AVERT Labs said, anti malware vendors already share data either formally or informally. Sometimes that results in wasted time and effort as Vendor A shares with Vendor B. Vendor B shares with Vendor C. Then Vendor C shares Vendors A data with Vendor A.  Moreover, the formats aren't standardized and require manual effort among all vendors. The schema, which is available on the ICSG site, is not an IEEE standard, but is an agreed upon format, facilitated by the IEEE, among the participating companies.

ICSG or IEEE-SA will also facilitate access to the schema as well as access to the group. The ICSG is not going to be a clearinghouse for malware information. There is some sensitivity in sharing malware. No one wants the bad guys, or gals, to get sensitive information about vulnerabilities. Organizations that wish to share malware information will still have to contact individual companies to make those arrangements. Both of those issues, creating a central repository and setting guidelines on sharing data, are the types of problems an Industry Connection group might be able to address.David O'Berry, director of IT systems and services for the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole, and Pardon Services said, "I think the IEEE needs to re-invent itself to remain relevant to the computer industry. If they can bring in people across other verticals and are not creating more silos, that is good. They need to involve the end-user directly."

In June, 2009, the IEEE-ISTO (International Standards and Technology Organization) launched the IEEE Conformity Assessment Program (ICAP)  to provide support to other IEEE standards groups, test labs, and industry groups in developing conformance tests. The first meeting was informational and had a diverse set of organizations from NIST, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the Ethernet Alliance, and OmniAir. What was important in that meeting, however, was the IEEE-ISTO facilitating a diverse group of organizations and individuals in a discussion of conformance testing and how their programs serve their customers. Rather than just focusing on making standards, the IEEE-ISTO wants to help in taking the important next step, ensuring standards compliant products are actually interoperable.

In that sense, parts of the IEEE are re-inventing themselves to adapt to market conditions. The IEEE may struggle with getting IT organizations, not vendors, but enterprises, non-profits, government agencies, and other consumers of products involved in the Industry Connections.  For the first year, that an Industry Connection group is formed, anyone--IEEE members and non-members--can participate in the group. But after the first year is up, membership in the IEEE will be required to participate. Voting rights on consensus documents are reserved for IEEE Corporate members only. That could be a substantial barrier to entry for organizations other than vendors. 

The IEEE has traditionally conducted business face-to-face, whereas other groups like the IETF tend to conduct business via email and lists. Representatives from the ICSG did say that much of the work developing their schema document was done over email and other electronic collaboration tools, but some work was completed face-to-face. Moving the primary means of collaboration from face-to-face meetings to on-line should be a high priority. Even before the recession, travels budgets were getting cut. In addition, many companies aren't used to subsidizing employee's participation in standards groups. Those two facts are going to inhibit members from traveling to meetings.

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