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ISO/IEC 20000 – Why does it take so long to create or update a standard?

ISO/IEC 20000 series revision

All standards are reviewed every 5 years to assess if they remain relevant and need any improvement. After this process, some standards will be retired, some will remain as they are and some will be updated to a new edition. The series is also reviewed for the need for any new parts in the series.

It can take several years to create a new standard or to update a standard. But why does it take so long?

ISO/IEC processes

The creation or update of international standards needs to allow the views of all member countries to be taken into account.  Standards are used for many years and impact individuals and organisations so it is important that time is taken to get them right. International standards are created or updated within an ISO or ISO/IEC committee. Member countries have mirror committees (national bodies). In the UK these are BSI committees. Members of committees are technical experts in the field of the committee. Representatives from the national bodies attend the international committees.

New standards are proposed using a New Work Item Proposal* (NWIP) template which asks lots of questions about its scope, purpose, market need, any overlaps with current standards etc. The NWIP also contains an initial draft of the standard implying that quite a lot of work has been done before this stage.

This NWIP is submitted for ballot with the member countries. If approved the process of creation starts with comments from all countries on the draft standard. A project editor is assigned who is a technical expert on the subject and in charge of editing the standard with agreed changes. The project editor may also have co-editors. Meetings are held internationally to review the comments and agree changes.

Updates to standards occur in a similar way. Comments are submitted by various countries on changes requested and these go through the same process of meetings, comment resolution and editing until the final version is ready.

Comment resolution can become very heated as there are often opposing views. The aim is to get consensus which sometimes has to come by seeking the majority opinion.

Meetings are held face to face twice per year and there can also be on-line meetings. Each meeting usually covers many standards in a series and can achieve one cycle of draft updates to a standard which is then reviewed and commented on again. This process goes through various stages until the standard is agreed as final.

ISO or ISO/IEC provide an editor who will do the final checks and editing prior to publication.

Summary

If you sometimes wonder why a standard contains certain words or phrases, consider how it was created – by a committee from many countries who have worked very hard over a long period of time and done their best to create the standard you work with today.

Once you have attended one of these international committees, you will understand how hard it is to work with similar organisations that have a big impact on our lives such as the European Union and the United Nations.

Lynda Cooper, an independent consultant and trainer, is one of the first people in the world to hold the ITIL Master qualification. Lynda chairs the BSI committee for IT service management (ITSM). Lynda sits on various ISO/IEC committees representing the UK and is the project editor for ISO/IEC 20000-1 and ISO/IEC 90006.

Want to know more about Lynda and her work? Visit her website here 

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*New Work Item Proposal Template sourced from ISO

Posted in ISO Schemes.

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