Author: Yogi Schulz

To many the case for IT standards is a boring issue. Before you turn the page however, recognize that your organization is receiving huge benefits from IT standards; perhaps in the millions of dollars annually. Consider the savings we associate with moving our computing infrastructures from proprietary to open standards during the past 10 years.

Standards are something we take for granted. When was the last time you worried about whether your toaster would work after you plugged it in? You may recall more vividly however, the time your spouse’s hairdryer or shaver wouldn’t plug into the wall socket on the first day of that European vacation. We notice the impact of standards most clearly when their absence creates a problem.

The Canadian public sector, particularly in Ontario, has recognized the benefits of IT standards and the need for collaboration in creating standards. This need for collaboration was driven home after some organizations tried to build comprehensive public sector data models by themselves. This exercise became less than a stellar success as costs mounted and the goal remained out of sight somewhere over the horizon.

Subsequently, various public sector organizations sponsored the Municipal Reference Model (MRM), a business model standard, and the Municipal Infrastructure Data Standard (MIDS), a data model standard.

So why write a column about good news? This development is worth discussing because there are seeds of difficulty in having two modeling initiatives operating in one sector of the economy. The oil & gas industry in Alberta has already experienced this difficulty to its detriment.

In the late 1980’s the exploration groups at several oil & gas producers, their software suppliers and the Government of Alberta came to the same conclusion about the futility of individually building data models. They sponsored the Public Petroleum Data Model Association (PPDM) to cooperatively build a data model. This association and its data model have now matured to the point where it includes members on every continent.

Alberta is also the home of another standards initiative named PRIDE. This stands for Partner Regulatory Information DataExchange. PRIDE includes both a business model and a data model standard. It was sponsored by the accounting groups at several oil & gas producers, their software suppliers and the Government of Alberta. The groups wanted to reduce the amount and complexity of the regulatory paperwork that was flowing back and forth among companies and the Government of Alberta.

The two initiatives are funded by distinct interest groups which don’t talk to each other very much. Therefore, the two data models turned out to be quite incompatible because of differences in business objectives.

The incompatibility in the models created considerable confusion for all the stakeholders in the oil & gas industry. Some discussion about merging the PPDM and the PRIDE standards went nowhere due to lack of sponsorship. The confusion made the software suppliers in the industry cautious about incorporating the models in their products. This in turn has delayed use of the models within the industry. The overall outcome has reduced benefits for everyone involved.

This incompatibility especially undermines the ability to exploit integration opportunities. As a result both oil & gas standards organizations, while delivering various benefits to their respective members, missed the much larger benefits that integration opportunities provide.

So how sure are we of the reality of benefits from integration? In the oil & gas industry, it is widely accepted that exploration success is enhanced by making better data more easily accessible in an integrated fashion. Poor integration can lead to dry wells at a cost of about $500,000 each. Even a few dozen dry wells per year amounts to a big number.

For the public sector, let’s listen to Mr. Skip Lumley of Chartwell Information Resource Management Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. Chartwell manages both MRM and MIDS for their sponsoring public sector organizations. I spoke to him recently about how these two initiatives are developing. Mr. Lumley “sees billions of dollars in integration benefits” arising from the use of the models in public sector systems.

If we’re serious about achieving the benefits from IT standards initiatives in the public sector, let’s not miss the boat again. Let’s build only one data model, not two.