UN/CEFACT's Open Development Process for Technical Specifications
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1. As part of a broad move to encourage electronic working, the UN/CEFACT Steering Group (CSG) are recommending that UN/CEFACT groups develop and evolve Technical Specifications using an open and inclusive process that produces high-quality specifications in "Internet-time."
2. This document describes the open process and the five goals that drive it: openness, world-wide participation, speed, compatibility, and technical excellence. The CSG believes that this process is fundamental to UN/CEFACT's large and accelerating acceptance as a modern standardisation organisation by the international community and by Electronic Business implementers (such as software developers) around the world and is also vital to maintaining the technical quality and cross-industry compatibility that a Electronic Business platform requires.
UN/CEFACT TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
3. UN/CEFACT Technical Specifications are for all implementers and end-users. They are unique in providing a single set of specifications for any technical application independent of communication protocol, underlying operating systems and hardware platforms.
4. UN/CEFACTís open development process is designed to involve all materially interested parties in the creation and evolution of Technical Specifications. UN/CEFACTís goal is to produce specifications that are timely, technically excellent, implementable on any platform, and relevant both to industry participants and to end-user communities.
THE GOALS OF THE UN/CEFACT PROCESS
UN/CEFACT has five goals for developing Technical Specifications. They are:
[NOTE 1: Consensus: general agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments. Consensus needs not to imply unanimity.]
REASONS BEHIND THE PROCESS
10. UN/CEFACTís open development process is not revolutionary. It is evolutionary because it builds upon specification development processes already used by industry consortia and standards developing organisations.
11. Perhaps the most unique feature of this process is the use of iterative refinement and web-wide participation to build international consensus. The premise is that people are usually much better at reviewing and criticising a specification than they are at compiling a requirement list and writing a first working draft. UN/CEFACT's groups delegate that important task to a small, dedicated editing group that works with recognised experts. That first working draft is then refined in three steps. First, group experts and implementers review and comment on it. When this group reaches consensus, UN/CEFACT makes the second working draft available for public review at their web site, open to anyone. As comments are received, the editors update the working draft and republish it at UN/CEFACTís web site until broad consensus is achieved. The final step is to verify the working draft via at least two independent implementations that will identify any technical problems. Once the validation review is concluded, UN/CEFACT will publish the Technical Specification on their web site, open to anyone with access to the Internet.
THE OPEN DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
12. UN/CEFACTís experience has proven that the best way to develop a specification that meets all its process goals is to start with a very small editing group and have them write a first working draft in close consultation with industry experts who have a deep understanding of the business process in question. Consensus is then built using an iterative review process that allows an ever-widening audience to participate. UN/CEFACTís iterative approach allows consensus to be achieved rapidly because reviewers are able to see their comments and suggestions incorporated into successive versions of the document.
[NOTE 2: Technical specifications are developed within UN/CEFACT Working Groups]
Step 1. Proposing a new specification
14. UN/CEFACTís goal of speed demands that this group be kept as small as possible. Typically, the editing group will comprise of the project editor and two or three associate editors selected from within the UN/CEFACT group's experts.
Step 2. Compiling a requirement list
16. UN/CEFACT's goal of technical excellence demands that contributors must be experts in the business area in question. This allows diverse voices to comment on the details of the specification and ensures that no single organisation can dominate the process. UN/CEFACTís other goal of compatibility means that contributors must try to include features, if possible, that are applicable to more than one business and/or industry area.
Step 3. Writing the first working draft
18. Since most people are usually much better at reviewing and criticising a specification than they are at compiling a requirements list and writing a first working draft, the editors work to produce a document that is suitable for review and comment. They are not expected to produce a nearly final, polished version.
Step 4. Refining the first working draft
20. Speed dictates that the initial review period is limited to a month or two at most. The goal is to get the first working draft into a form suitable for public review as quickly as possible. The technical implementers help UN/CEFACT to meet the goal of compatibility early in UN/CEFACTís development process. The implementers have a wealth of experience in implementing the Technical Specifications for different business areas and industries. They are invaluable in identifying potential problems.
Step 5. Public review
22. The public review period is a critical part of the development process. Comments from the public have frequently raised fundamental process and technical issues - missed by the expert reviewers - that have considerably improved the specifications.
23. As the editing group collects the comments, criticisms, and suggestions from the public, they use them to further refine and improve the specification. As changes are made, the updated document will be republished at the web site. In UN/CEFACTís open process, everyone can see the changes, and the broad participation helps to build international consensus. Again, experience has shown that 2 or 3 iterations over a month or two are enough to address the public comments and to build consensus for the final version of the specification.
Step 6. Implementation verification
25. The verification review period is the most critical part of the development process. Problems and issues identified will result in considerable improvement in order to move the working draft towards a UN/CEFACT Technical Specification.
26. As the editing group collects the problems and issues identified from the implementers, they use them to further refine and improve the specification. As changes are made, the updated document will be forwarded to the implementers, as well as being re-published at the web site. In UN/CEFACTís open process, everyone can see the changes, and the broad participation helps to build international consensus. Again, experience has shown that 2 or 3 iterations over a month or two are enough to address the public comments and to build consensus for the final version of the specification.
Step 7. Final Technical Specification release
28. The specifications are published as part of the "UN/CEFACT Technical Specification Series". These printed versions, translated into various languages, will be available world-wide at moderate cost from the UN/CEFACT secretariat and/or International Industry User Groups. When the final specification is released, the editing group has completed its work and disbands. Steps 1-7 typically consume 9-15 months total, which meets the industry's need for speed.
Step 8. Maintenance
HOW TO REVIEW TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
30. All working draft and final specifications as well as E-mail addresses for comments will be available at www.cefact.org