I was asked at the last X12 standing meeting, "When were the first standards set into place in the U.S.?" My answer was, "Great question, but I don't know."
I have a passion for U.S. history, so I was motivated to seek the answer. So I went to the two oracles of all knowledge – Google and Wikipedia.
And the succinct answer is 1838. But the road to 1838 was a long one. For the students of history, it is as follows:
- January 1790, President George Washington, in his first annual message to Congress stated that, "Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to."
- Following this speech, Washington ordered Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to prepare a plan for Establishing Uniformity in the Coinage, Weights, and Measures of the United States.
- October 25, 1791, Washington appealed a third time to Congress to give weight and reason to, "A uniformity of the weights and measures of the country is among the important objects submitted to you by the Constitution and if it can be derived from a standard at once invariable and universal, must be no less honorable to the public council than conducive to the public convenience."
- In a report to the Senate in 1821, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams stated the following:
Weights and measures may be ranked among the necessaries of life to every individual of human society. They enter into the economical arrangements and daily concerns of every family. They are necessary to every occupation of human industry; to the distribution and security of every species of property; to every transaction of trade and commerce; to the labors of the husbandman; to the ingenuity of the artificer; to the studies of the philosopher; to the researches of the antiquarian; to the navigation of the mariner, and the marches of the soldier; to all the exchanges of peace, and all the operations of war. The knowledge of them, as in established use, is among the first elements of education, and is often learned by those who learn nothing else, not even to read and write. This knowledge is riveted in the memory by the habitual application of it to the employments of men throughout life.
— John Quincy Adams from the Report on Weights and Measures by the Secretary of State made to the Senate on February 22, 1821
- It was not until 1838 – 48 years after Washington's first plea that a uniform set of standards was worked out. And you thought it took X12 a long time to develop a standard!
In 1821, John Quincy Adams clearly articulated his belief that standards "are necessary to every occupation of human industry." That one question led me to another, is John Quincy Adam's belief true today?
Are standards as important today as they were to the Federal Government in the late 18th and 19th century?
In 2015, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Willie E. May, states the following in the United States Standards Strategy:
Standards facilitate trade, simplify transactions, and enable us to work together toward greater common goals that cut across disciplines and borders. Standards support the global economy and improve quality of life. But more than that, they provide the world a common language that gives people the power to explore new ideas in new ways and to make the most of innovations made in research laboratories around the world.
— Willie E. May Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2015
Mr. May undoubtedly believes that standards are more essential today than at any time in our nation's history. Thus the United States Standards Strategy clearly documents what I believe is the present status of standards:
- Voluntary consensus standards are at the foundation of the U.S. economy.
- The U.S. standards system promotes the public good, enhances the competitiveness of U.S. industry, and contributes to a liberalized global trading system.
- This "essential infrastructure" is therefore important to everyone,
- It is important that everyone understand that and work towards maintaining and improving the system.
I believe these four points exemplify the work that X12 does. Simply, our work is:
- For the Public Good
I want to reiterate the fact that the work X12 does is Valuable, Essential, Foundational and For the Public Good. We could not achieve this without its member companies and member representatives. Each of our member representatives are greatly valued for their participation and contributions.
The members bring business needs that challenge each other. Meeting or otherwise accommodating business needs through X12's rigorous consensus based decision making process is what we do. In doing "what we do", there's often controversy, tension and strong emotions expressed as we collaborate to reach consensus. The passion with which we work, quite fundamentally illustrates the work X12 does is important.
This is today. But what about tomorrow? Or next month, next year, the next decade?
What does the future hold for X12? Has anyone taken a hard look? The answer is yes! The X12 board has along with quite a few member representatives that have not hesitated to share their welcome views.
The role of X12's Board is to manage the business and affairs of the Corporation. I'm passionate about X12 seizing opportunities. As Board Chair, it's my responsibility to be sure we are ready, willing and able to meet the challenges of the future while keeping in focus the four criteria mentioned above. Thus, the board has been working to identify conditions and obstacles that may pose a barrier to X12's continued success – as well as how we can position ourselves to capitalize on emerging opportunities.
We looked "locally," which means we reviewed opportunities within our member organizations. We concluded we must adapt as we move forward in X12's evolving ecosystem. This means that we – the board and the member representatives – must recognize that the technology used by our members, related companies, their customers and the entire worldwide B2B community will continue to evolve. Some may say there are exceptions to this in some industries where, for example, X12 EDI has been entrenched for more than 30 years. However, because of public cloud-based processing, more prolific customer-configurable applications and mobile-computing are a reality.
An example of a "local" opportunity is as follows. There are many reports that indicate X12 has a larger install base across more industries than any other B2B transaction standards body. I don't know if this is true or not, but no matter whether we have the largest base or not, I believe we can do a better job of communicating with our install base, of standing ready to assist when they need it and of letting them know we appreciate their adoption of our work products directly and through others. We are going to focus on those end users by leveraging our relationships with software companies that provide solutions and services to the trading partners, with industry associations, with large trading partners and with government agencies. This will take time, but we're better poised to do it now than we have been since I've been participating with X12.
When we looked "globally," we looked at how ANSI is partnering with the United States Standards Strategy Committee (USSSC) to chart the future of standards and their development in the U.S. If true, in the future, the ideal standards organizations will embody these twelve points as published by ANSI in the USSS:
- Strengthen participation by government in development and use of voluntary consensus standards through public-private partnerships
- Continue to address the environment, health, and safety in the development of voluntary consensus standards
- Improve the responsiveness of the standards system to the views and needs of consumers
- Actively promote the consistent worldwide application of internationally recognized principles in the development of standards
- Encourage common governmental approaches to the use of voluntary consensus standards as tools for supporting regulatory needs
- Work to prevent standards and their application from becoming technical trade barriers to U.S. products and services
- Strengthen international outreach programs to promote understanding of how voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven sectoral standards can benefit businesses, consumers, and society as a whole
- Continue to improve the process and tools for the efficient and timely development and distribution of voluntary consensus standards
- Promote cooperation and coherence within the U.S. standards system
- Establish standards education as a high priority within the U.S. private, public, and academic sectors
- Maintain stable funding models for the U.S. standardization system
- Address the need for standards in support of emerging national priorities
Does X12 as an organization meet the criteria for the future as listed by our sanctioning organization?
I trust you can see that we have given consideration to the many aspects and issues facing our organization. I've talked before about some of the things we're embarking upon and although some may be controversial, I'm confident they will bring us to a better place where the things we do will become easier, simpler and faster.
I'll conclude with this. For the near term, we are actively working on improvements that strengthen our organization and support increased productivity, such as:
- Enhancing our tools to better service our existing members and allow them to more efficiently participate in our development processes.
- Evolving our IP usage and licensing models to reach the entities that accrue value from the use of our work products, either directly or through partners.
- Providing input to our partner, WPC as they enhance their standards development and publishing tools.
Beyond what we're already doing, we are also preparing to communicate more efficiently and consistently with our stakeholders - both members and non-members across all the industries we serve and intend to serve.
If you have questions, please let me know via email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for all your support of X12 and for those that haven't participated, I encourage you to become a member and make a difference.
Jim Taylor, X12 Board Chair