Less filling, great taste

It’s impossible for any standards organization to produce earthshaking new industry standard specifications every few months or even every year. First, there’s an incredible amount of work that members must do to define, analyze, and test new specs before they are published – and they still have to do their day job while this is going on. Secondly, there just aren’t that many opportunities – although the recent flurry of configurations or “pinout types” indicates that any excuse for a spec is a good excuse. So what is a standards organization to do between specs that will merit continued investment in membership by the members? This brings up the old debate as to whether a standards organization is a technical organization or a marketing organization. It’s like the light beer commercials of the 90s: Less filling. Great taste. It’s both.

Clearly, the technical element drives a standards organization. Long-term value is derived from producing a set of specifications that enable industry suppliers to develop and market a set of interoperable and interchangeable components. They allow system OEMs to count on this interoperability and interchangeability without question. Without these specifications, there would be chaos in the market. And it’s only right that members of the organization participate in the definition, have first access to these specifications, and vote their approval or disapproval for release. But once a spec hits the street, it’s open to everyone.

The next step

After release of a specification, the role of the standards organization shifts. Using the resources gathered from membership dues, the organization engages in promotional and marketing activities to raise awareness and educate the market about the new specifications. There are several “gotchas” that creep into play at this point. First, these marketing activities benefit not only those members who participated in the definition and were early adopters of the spec, but also non-members who have implemented products to the specification. So membership dues paid by Company A benefit Company B who is not paying dues. Secondly, some members think that since there is no spec under development that interests them, they need not continue with their membership.

This gets us to the insidious fact that while there is significant and widespread respect for these standards organizations as technical bodies developing and maintaining specs, there is little recognition or respect for their marketing activities. In fact, several of these organizations don’t do any marketing at all. So this becomes an industrial version of publish or perish. Either we keep members interested in new specs (or types), or face drops in membership, revenue, and the ability to educate and promote awareness of everything the organization does.

For the good of the industry

Where do we start to fix this? First, the perception that members are paying a fee to have their engineering director sit on a working group committee has got to go. Member dues support the continued existence of the organization and allow it to pursue all of its goals including promoting the widespread adoption of its specifications.

Secondly, since member representatives are usually engineers (more likely engineering managers), they have little or no interest in marketing topics. It is important for each member company to have both a technical representative and a marketing representative. In too many member companies the marketing guys don’t know or care what is going on in the standards organization.

Thirdly, industry players need to stop looking for an ROI on their dues. The return is that the organization continues to exist to the benefit of the entire industry. I don’t look for an ROI on my contribution to the American Cancer Society (although I might benefit from a cure my contribution helped fund if I should get cancer) – it’s a contribution to an important cause that benefits everyone.

Too many times over the years I’ve heard the refrain: “We don’t see anything in it for us this year.” If you believe the organization provides a benefit to the industry by its very existence, this argument is selfish and petty. You become a member and provide financial support because you believe everyone benefits collectively from the activities of the organization. So my message is this: If you are not a member, join. If you are a member, renew. Participate often.

Small Form Factor Special Interest Group 650-961-2473 info@sff-sig.org www.sff-sig.org