National Committee for Information Technology Standards (NCITS)
NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY STANDARDS (NCITS)
The need for common standards is obvious to anyone who has ever traveled with an electric hair dryer and learned that it needed a special adapter to be used in Europe, or who once tried to purchase a typewriter ribbon only to find thirty or forty incompatible types from which to choose. The need for standards is even more apparent in electronic commerce, which presupposes the rapid, accurate, technically problem-free exchange of data between computers via the World Wide Web. The National Committee for Information Technology Standards (NCITS) takes a leading role in establishing IT standards for the United States and in representing American interests in groups that set international standards.
The mission of NCITS—pronounced "insights"—is to establish standards in the areas of multimedia, such as JPEG and MPEG, intercommunication among various computers and information systems, storage media such as hard disks and floppies, database technology, security, and programming languages. In early 2001, the organization added electronic commerce to its agenda of interests. From its formation in 1961 as the Accredited Standards Committee X3, Information Technology of the Computer and Business Equipment Association (now ITI, the Information Technology Industry Council) until autumn 2001, NCITS promulgated 612 separate technical standards related to information technology. ITI, a private, nonprofit trade group, continues to sponsor the work of NCITS. The group operates under the rules of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which were written to guarantee that standards were developed by the parties who had a direct and material interest in them.
Some 1,700 organizations from around the world are members of NCITS. They include leading companies from the computer, telecommunications, and Internet industries, such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Bell Laboratories; defense industries such as Northrop Grumman; government and quasigovernmental bodies such as the Defense Department, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the U.S. Postal Service; and universities like the University of Illinois. Members pay an annual membership fee, plus an additional fee to procure voting rights on any of NCITS' 40 Technical Committees (TCs). The TCs are where the main work of NCITS are done. They research, study, and hammer out standards for the IT industry. There are TCs devoted to most conceivable categories of the IT realm, ranging from the apparently mundane, like computer paper and forms, office equipment, and storage media such as disk drives and floppies, to high level specialties such as the various programming languages, character sets, security, I/O interfaces, text processing, and database technologies.
TCs carry out three main functions. First, within the limits of their assigned technical scope, they study and draft proposed new standards for hardware and software. Second, they recommend new standards-related projects for study to NCITS. Third, they act as technical advisors for or on behalf of NCITS at meetings of international standards-setting organizations. Some special NCITS projects are also assigned to special study groups or ad hoc groups as the need arises.
Establishing a new standard at NCITS is a process that can take from 6 to 18 months at its most rapid, or years and years at its slowest. The work on the second revision of the COBOL programming language, for example, has been in committee since the mid-1980s. Once NCITS accepts a standard, compliance is strictly voluntary, even by the group's members. A critical standard in which NCITS had a hand at establishing was the size of floppy disks. The five-inch floppy is universal today, and the easy transfer of data between computers is a fact of life. In the 1980s NCITS was instrumental in the development of the National Standard Code for Information Exchange, the well-known ANSI character set. The group's most important achievement of the 1990s was probably the development of the SQL language, which helped make possible present-day database technology. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in September 2001, NCITS turned its attention to the establishment of common standards for biometrics—the measurement and analysis of biological data. If an international standard for taking and transmitting electronic fingerprints had been in place after the attack, for example, it would have been much easier to track terrorists across international borders because fingerprints could have been exchanged by law enforcement agencies instantaneously.
In January 2001, NCITS established a new Technical Committee to develop standards to codify the technology of e-commerce. V3, as the committee is called, proposes standards in a broad range of e-commerce areas, including the transportation of freight, traffic management, entertainment, financial instruments, healthcare management, distribution, and manufacturing. The committee's early work was divided into four phases: to identify necessary conditions for making e-commerce economically and technically viable; to catalog any relevant existing standards; to catalog current e-commerce practices; and to determine areas where standards can be developed. In its first two meetings, the committee pinpointed software safety, fault tolerance, and application reliability as three areas where standards were lacking. As of October 2001, the V3 committee had not proposed any new standards.
"NCITS, National Committee for Information Technology Standards." Washington, D.C.: National Committee for Information Technology Standards, 2001. Available from www.ncits.org/.
SEE ALSO: American National Standards Institute (ANSI); Biometrics