Steve Mills has been researching and developing products at the Hewlett-Packard Company for over 28 years. His current title is HP’s Senior Architect. To those at the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA), he is also known as the current President-elect. With nine years of IEEE SA service under his belt, Mills certainly knows a lot about standards. We asked him to sit down and discuss a bit of the what, the how and the “why-me” involved with the standards process.
Q: Under what circumstances do new standards come about?
Steve Mills: Most volunteer consensus standards are driven from the bottom up. That is, companies or individuals identify a topic they believe would benefit from a standard or a set of standards, and organize themselves to define a new project. This is the approach most often used within the IEEE.
Looking forward, the IEEE SA sees the opportunity for individuals and corporations to participate in activities that go beyond the traditional standards development process by contributing to a broader set of activities, including setting strategies for technologies/markets. An example of this is the Smart Grid, where the IEEE SA is actively engaged in the development of a globally scoped Smart Grid standards strategy.
Q: Are most manufacturers in favor of standards—or would they rather “duke it out” in the marketplace? Why or why not?
Mills: The answer to this question is complex, since different types of standards can be viewed differently. For example, a standard that has a focus on safety could be viewed differently than one that is more product-focused. For the latter, I see a strong correlation between a company’s view of the value of standards and the stage of development of a particular market at any given point in time. In the early stages of market development, most companies do not think about standards. They focus on product differentiation and gaining market share from their competition; they “duke it out” in the market. Later as the market stabilizes and growth slows, standards are viewed more favorably as a way to reduce product costs, and expand and grow markets.
Q: How do potential IEEE members go about getting involved?
Mills: The best way to get involved is to simply start to participate in the activities of the working group; attend the meetings, subscribe to the mailing lists, etc. The best way to find out about projects of interest is by searching the website for information on areas of interest.
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