When putting into place plans for the upcoming year, settling budgets and expectations of how things will work out, organizational leaders must focus on resources. For NISO, the largest part of those resources comes from our members. And while the overwhelming majority of our members are stable and committed to participating in our community--92% of our member companies renew--each year someone informs us of their decision not to renew, which always comes as a great surprise.
Several years ago around this time I received an email from the president of a member company, who had decided not to renew participation as a voting member for the upcoming year. Oddly enough, in the footer of this person's message was a statement about the company's conformance with standards. As I always do, I arranged a call to discuss the situation. In making the case for the company to remain a member of NISO, I raised the fact that the person's footer proclaimed support for and conformance with standards. The president proclaimed boldly that his "entire business was based on standards" and that his "entire business relied on standards to function." It seemed incongruous to exhibit the company's "support" by withdrawing from the one body that undertook the development and maintenance of the standards his business relied upon, even though no members of his company's staff were participating in NISO projects just then. I then asked if there were problems or challenges that his company faced with the standards it was using. "Of course," was his reply. So I proceeded to inquire whether NISO could do anything about addressing those problems, and told him how to get projects moving forward to improve the state of our community. By the end of the conversation, the company had changed its mind about leaving NISO, and we worked on improving the issue it had faced.
Participation in standards development represents cost to an organization: both a direct cost in the terms of membership fees that support the overall effort, and also an indirect cost in terms of the staff time that is needed to advance work. Some organizations pick up only a portion of those costs by allowing staff to volunteer for efforts or working toward adoption in the community outside of the formal development process. Each of these contributions is welcome, of course, and supports the broader goals of improving interoperability and efficiency in our community. However, every organization needs resources, and standards development is not a cost-free activity.
This isn't normally the space where I discuss the business case for standards, but as each of you assembles your budget plans for the coming year, please take a moment to consider the benefits your institution sees from NISO's work, and whether your organization could even function without the standards that we support. In all likelihood, running your business would be significantly more time-consuming, costlier, or even impossible without the identifiers, the metadata, the content models, or the processes that NISO has standardized or provided input for standardization. If you think about it, there may be ways that these forms or processes could be improved that would save your organization some high multiple of the NISO membership fee.
Participation and membership in NISO might not be as obvious a bottom-line contributor as other investments, but when standards don't exist or compliance is lacking, the costs can be significant. Earlier this year, one executive told me the story of a six-figure sale that was lost because the vendor and subscriber systems weren't correctly sharing data, which depressed usage so much that the subscribing institution decided the cost of continuing the subscription wasn't worth the investment and cancelled it. In reality, the problem wasn't that users didn't want the content, but that they weren't exposed to it because interoperability had failed. Now that organization needs to work even harder to get that customer back, and consequently the executive team has a better understanding of the value of standards.
Are there situations in your organization where a failure of standards or interoperability could lead to significant losses or wasted resources? I'm sure you can think of problems where this is the case. Now consider how NISO can support your organization and your team in ensuring you don't face those problems. NISO can help you. Let's talk about how that can happen.