In this chapter we begin the recapitulation of the intellectual discovery process in which the CIMI Committee engaged to formulate the CIMI Standards Framework. The first step is to understand the concept of information systems standards and the issues associated with their development and maintenance. The CIMI Committee found it useful to understand the nature of standards creating organizations and their relationships so that it could better distinguish the Committee's role of defining the needs for standards within a narrow disciplinary community.
Every professional community in the modern world is engaged in the development of standards;indeed sociologists view the adoption of standards as a defining characteristic of professionalism. In the contemporary developed world many of the standards which professions must adopt deal with information critical to communication between and within organizations. The U.S. archival community (Walch, 1989) and the international museum community (Roberts, 1992) have recently restated the benefits of adopting standards, citing enhanced professional practice and increased access to information as primary. The success and pace at which standards have been adopted is driven by desire, need, benefit and not surprisingly, economic potential.
+----------------------------------------------------------------------------+ | | | Standards: | | | | o Encourage consistency which leads to increased | | understanding and communication. | | | | o Provide guidelines and models that reduce duplication of | | effort and build on the effort of others. | | | | o Enhance access and control of information that | | contributes to better professional practice and greater | | access to knowledge. | | | +----------------------------------------------------------------------------+ Figure 2: The Benefits of Standards
While standards are sometimes promulgated by a single powerful market source (and commonly referred-to as de facto standards), the standards on which the CIMI Standards Framework is based are those negotiated through a voluntary development process
Internationally, negotiated standards affect all types of information transfer, and the number of active standards development bodies is staggering. Standards bodies use a consensus building process to gain approval for new proposals and revisions. They rely on expert input to create standards. And they coordinate their activities with other standards bodies around the world. While these practices contribute to the somewhat baroque landscape of standards bodies , they do ensure a process for input into the creation and revision of standards through a gestation period which often exceeds four years.
Figure 3: Standards bodies and their interrelationships
Figure 3, Standards Bodies and their Interrelationships, diagrams the relationships between some of the international and national standards bodies with direct relevance to CIMI.
Voluntary standards bodies are related to each other in a jurisdictional hierarchy. International governmental organizations formed by treaty among United Nations member countries include the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). National governmental representatives are accredited to represent each country within the standards setting process in these organizations. Other international standards bodies such as the ISO are nongovernmental, created by mutual consent of interested parties. They are likewise fed by national organizations organized along the same lines. Sometimes committees from the two types of standards setting bodies decide to work together if their areas of interest overlap. For example, a group known as "JTC1" which is important to museum information standardization efforts was formed as the first joint technical committee of the IEC and ISO. Typically, standards setting bodies at all jurisdictional levels are divided into committees and subcommittees along disciplinary or industry sector lines like steel, aircraft parts, agriculture, or information technology. These, in turn, have working groups resulting in a remarkably complex hierarchy. For example, as shown in Figure 3, ISO Technical Committee 46 (TC46) which deals with information and documentation has a number of Subcommittees dealing with such issues as transliteration (SC2), Physical Keeping of Documents (SC10), Computer Applications (SC4). SC4 in turn has a number of Working Groups (WG) that deal with Character Sets (WG1), Commands for Interactive Search Systems (WG5), data elements (WG7), and format structures for bibliographic information (WG4). Each working group may be responsible for one or many individual standards; WG4 is responsible for ISO 2709.
Within these working groups standards are developed by consensus via a highly structured process. Once an area is identified as having a need for standardization (and this can come internally, or externally by an interest group such as CIMI) the issue is assigned to one of the working committees or a new committee is formed. As discussion occurs over the first 1-2 years, gradually a draft standard is developed that is circulated for review. Comments are received, and any formal objections are noted through a voting process. This continues iteratively until there are no outstanding formal objections. The votes are cast by accredited national members of the body who almost always defer to their membership for directions on how to cast their ballots.
Each TC, SC and WG has a secretariat and a convener who manages the group activities. Liaisons and rapporteurs act as conduits of information in and out of the working committees and are recognized official functions in most standards bodies. It is common for most SC and WG to maintain liaisons with each other as well as with other standards bodies resulting in a complex web of interactions.
The official U.S. national standards body is ANSI, the voluntary coordinator of roughly 180 member organizations who represent commerce, industry, public sector and consumer interests. ANSI doesn't actually develop standards, rather it recommends standards proposed by its affiliated organizations such as the Electronics Industry Association (EIA), the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), the Accredited Standards Committee 12 (ASC X12 established to created standards for electronic data interchange for business transactions), or the National Information Standards Organization (NISO).
ANSI also represents the interests of the U.S. in other international standards areas such as the Consultative Committee on International Telephone and Telegraph (CCITT) and ISO. ISO publishes technical standards in all areas except electrical and electronic engineering which is the responsibility of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
NISO publishes and coordinates all standards having to do with documentation, publishing, information sciences and libraries in the U.S. in its capacity as the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ANSI. NISO in turn forms committees and working groups to develop standards proposals. These committees rely on expert input from the community effected by the proposed standards and NISO encourages the broadest possible review and comment on draft standards. This is also typical of the operation of other national standards bodies such as the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) or the British Standards Institute (BSI).
Figure 4, Standards Bodies and their areas of interest, shows graphically the relationships between standards organizations and their activities.
During this investigation of standards organizations, the CIMI Committee learned that even though standards making involves all interested parties, the existence of a standard does not mean that it will be implemented fully, quickly, or even at all. Some standards represent excellent ideas but are not implemented by the industry for market reasons. Other standards may be formulated by a group which is insufficiently aware of the overlap between its concerns and that of other standards organizations resulting in a standard which is a subset or superset of another effort which has powerful industry support. Identifying which standards will be widely adopted, and become "standard", is an issue with which CIMI is acquainted.
A brief description of various standards related to museum data interchange and cited in this report is found in Appendix A.
To date there has been little interest in the museum community in developing interchange formats beyond ASCII text transfer. Only CIDOC, and the Conservation Information Network (CIN) have embraced an external data communications format (both have adopted ISO 2709) but to date no significant quantity of museum object data has been directly exchanged in this format. The most active museum interaction with international standards efforts has been through CIDOC. CIMI developed and continues a close working relationship with CIDOC because of its central role in international museum standards development. CIDOC is a liaison to all the working groups of TC46 and has recently asked CIMI Project Manager John Perkins to serve in that position. CIMI and CIDOC are collaborating on presenting a high-level reference model of a Museums and Cultural Heritage Documentation Standards Framework as presented in Chapter V. Additionally, CIMI is working with CIDOC's Reconciliation of Data Standards Working Group (RDSWG) to propose a common strategy for adopting the emerging ISO TC46/SC4/WG6 framework for the generation, naming and standardization of data elements.
National museum organizations have not been active in interchange standards efforts. In the U.S., the library and archives communities have played active roles in standards initiatives but there is no similar representation from the museum community on US standards bodies. No US museum professional association including even the MCN, has an official relationship to a national standard body. Only recently have museum professionals been involved in ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29 (Multi and Hypermedia), as representatives of the museum profession and not for individual interest. Participation by US museum libraries in OCLC, RLIN and other bibliographic networks using ISO 2709 has not greatly influenced the curatorial or educational functions in museums or resulted in much museum collection data being exchanged over these networks.
National museum organizations in the UK and Canada have not adopted international interchange standards. CHIN uses the "Microtext" format, a set of conventions using ASCII files, to exchange records between their mainframe's BASIS software and microcomputers. The Museum Documentation Association has not played any role in developing interchange standards although it licenses a proprietary data entry package.
In spite of this inattention to interchange standards, museums have attempted to formulate data content standards which would be important to communication once interchange mechanisms are developed. In the UK, the Museum Documentation Association (MDA) has promulgated a documentation standard since 1977. The MDA has established its Museum Object Data Standard as a proposed national standard in the UK for both manual and automated systems. Roughly 350 copies of the software package MODES (Museum Object Data Entry System) are in use in the UK making it a de facto content standard for many UK museums.
In Canada, CHIN has promoted common definitions of data elements in its institutional and national databases over the past twenty years. To date there is little indication that any commercial museum system anywhere in the world will obtain sufficient market share to be considered a de facto standard.
Standards frameworks are conceptual models that represent the domain to which standards apply, the user needs and requirements in that domain, and the standards indicated to satisfy them. Often the framework is represented graphically. Standards frameworks have proven invaluable in clarifying the complex relationships between needs and methods of addressing them and in expressing those relationships to others. CIMI examined a number of standards frameworks for both technical relevance and operational inspiration and identified three which served both functions: OSI, OSE and CALS.
OSI, or the Open System Interconnection framework was proposed in 1977 by ISO/IEC JTC1/SC21 to allow differing computer systems to interwork for the main purposes of exchanging files, electronic messaging, logging on to the other's system and submitting jobs. The framework is encapsulated in the seven layer OSI Reference Model (ISO 7498-1984 ISORM) which provides a conceptual framework for understanding how discrete functions within the complex process of computer communication can build an end to end communication capability (Figure 5).
When articulated, it was a call for construction of standards that would permit each "layer" of communication functionality to operate independently of each other layer so that a message might be successfully conveyed between machines running on different electrical current, or operating different network software and configurations. The model has been so successful that there are now dozens of individual standards specifying technical characteristics of functions at each layer in the model.
OSI is important to CIMI both because it demonstrates how a framework can stimulate the creation of appropriate standards and because it locates the standards of greatest interest to CIMI and allows the museum community to adopt other standards within the overall OSI suite with confidence that they will not impact on museum specific functional requirements. Specifically, the standards of interest to CIMI are limited to the two highest layers in the Reference Model: the Application and Presentation layers, which together ensure that any information exchanged among systems is in a commonly understood form. The other five layers are concerned with the physical connection and transmission processes. CIMI is thereby free to adopt all these standards with knowledge that they will assist in achieving communication.
In the Application Layer all the system independent functions supported by the OSI Reference Model interface to the application dependent functions of the end user software system. This end user software might support functions such as collections management, point-of-sale data capture, word processing, facilities management, etc. but it will do so using common underlying standards for data representation, such as ASCII for text or JPEG compression for images, file management, such as File Transfer, Access and Management or FTAM (ISO 8571), or messaging, such as MOTIS (ISO 8505, 8883, 9065) now a widely accepted electronic mail standard.
In the Presentation Layer, standards define how the digital bits (encoded 1 or 0) are to be grouped together to represent information that will be meaningful to the operating system of the computer or the display system of a monitor or printer. For example, ASN.1 (ISO 8824 and 8825) prescribes how information units can be taken from the local system's encoding scheme (called an Abstract Syntax), transformed to a mutually agreed upon encoding scheme (called the Transfer Syntax) for transmission to the destination system where it will be retransformed into that local Abstract Syntax. Similarly, the Computer Graphics Metafile (GCM) standard translates representations of data so they can be displayed on a variety of different devices.
Recently a standards framework which extends OSI has been proposed to reflect that interchange requires more than the connection of two computers. To make application software and data portable and system independent a standards framework called the Open Systems Environment (OSE) has been developed by IEEE and promoted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the U.S. Figure 6 depicts the Open Systems Environment model as applied to museums by Judi Moline, a member of the NIST staff who is active in MCN and CIMI.
What the model depicts is an application software environment which relies on generic functions provided by the "application platform" which are in turn mediated through an application platform interface layer consisting of a wide variety of standards. The designer of an application, if he employs these standards, can count on delivery of the appropriate services independent of the platform on which the software is running. Similarly, the designers of software for platforms (operating systems) can count on managing the external environment and its different devices and resources, if they follow the standards of the external environment interface.
During the life of the CIMI Initiative, the US Defense Department launched a much vaster initiative to exploit standards to achieve efficiencies in the design, manufacture, procurement, delivery, maintenance and use of military equipment. This Computer Aided Acquisition and Logistics Support (CALS) program developed a standards framework which was particularly interesting to CIMI. With billions of dollars to spend, the military could have simply issued specifications requiring all systems it acquired to have certain defined capabilities, but instead it chose in CALS to seek adherence to a comprehensive suite of ISO standards. Defense analysts reasoned that this would allow competition from firms worldwide for military business and provide a stronger foundation for interoperability than dictating special defense department requirements. In the longer term CALS would build commercial competitiveness and reduce costs, as well as give assurance of continuing operability. In other words, they were driven to OSI and OSE by the same pressures that brought the museum community there even though, or especially because, they have billions of dollars to spend. FIGURE 7 represents CALS architecture, an extension of the concept of open systems by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
CALS was interesting to CIMI for two reasons: it is an example of the use of a standards framework to achieve a large-scale efficiency in communication, and because CALS in fact solves the same problems that beset museum communications. CALS information is about military equipment, or artifacts and their component parts, from design of the parts by one subcontractor, to their assembly by the prime contractor, through their delivery, maintenance, resupply, repair and replacement. As such, CALS, like museum documentation, depends on communication of software independent representations of material artifacts and the organizational and social processes by which they are related.
The proposed CALS framework is an elegant model incorporating open systems standards communications and data encoding which has now been widely adopted by the military's of US allies and by the producers of much of the equipment required by the military/industrial complex including commercial aircraft. We hope the CIMI Standards Framework presented in the next few chapters is equally elegant and compelling albeit to a different audience.
Interchange takes place when information in one system is transferred to another system where it can be processed. Figure 8 shows the concept of interchange schematically.
The information held in user application A is converted into interchange formats to be sent to B. The interchange format is simply a neutral way of laying out the data, typically neither the way the sending nor receiving system uses it, but which is standard so that a sender can make a single translation to the neutral format for communication to all the potential users. And vice versa, a recipient can make a single translation from the neutral format for communication with any number of senders. Ideally these translations from native application format (internal schema) to the interchange format (external schema) are built into the application software or a separate application which does nothing but translate. A fully satisfactory format will lose no information in translation and hence be fully reversible.
As reflected in FIGURE 8, interchange formats rely on lower level OSI standards for data transfer protocols and network transport protocols to move the formatted information between systems. The interchange involves the moving of data down through these layers of encoding and back up. If information for interchange is structured independently, the information may be moved from application to application within a single system environment or may be transported via telecommunications or other media to another system with equal ease.
Interchange is not something that just happens if two parties or a community decide to do it. Detailed agreements usually have to be negotiated by the exchanging parties to make it work. The reason is that interchange involves not simply the movement of data from one system to another, but the transfer of information in a processable form. To make data into information, both parties must understand its meaning and content; to make information processable, both parties must understand the purpose of the interchange as well as the structure and form of the data.
Ultimately the museum community will have to reach agreement in four areas to have successful interchange. These four areas are defined with extreme formality by an ISO Technical Report (ISO/IEC JTC1 SC21 Document N4903: Methodology and Guidelines for the Development of Application Layer Standards.) and shown in Figure 9.
The interchange agreements must be made explicit and formal in a service definition which is a detailed specification of the consecutive processes of a transaction. For example, a service definition for the processing of a request for a loan would specify what would be in it, from whom it might come, what should be done with it and what information is expected by way of reply.
The type, quantity and degree of formalization of the agreements necessary for interchange vary depending on the complexity of the processing functions being supported and the technical dependencies of the data. For example, for a simple exchange of ASCII text files on disk, the Conceptual Agreement is based on the inference that I have a document you want to read. The Semantic Agreement that it is a document, in English, with paragraphs etc. is also likely to have been inferred. The Representation and Communication Protocol agreements were made when we proposed to exchange ASCII files for the DOS or Macintosh operating system and when we agreed to send a disk by mail. It is relatively simple to have interchanges of ASCII files on diskette because the necessary agreements are fully supported by widespread standards and because our processing requirements are of a very low level. Similarly, meaning is conveyed by means of literary and typographical convention surrounding the form of text in a fax.
For interchange of structured data we need to indicate the relationships in the structure such as fields in records, links between records, and links between contents of fields. "Comma Delimited" ASCII is a simple format for communicating the existence of a field break with a comma. Once fields of information are marked, we could communicate even more by naming each field. We could get an even greater payoff by representing the content of each field in a standard way so that the receiving system can process it directly. If the agreement communicates that the content of a field is a date, the system can process it more intelligently. If in addition it specifies whether the data value '3/7/93' means March 7th or July 3rd, it can act appropriately on the data it receives. Content agreements can be quite complex, as are the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACRII), used in library cataloguing.
Each community of users must agree on common definitions based on its specific applications. For example, date may well be defined as a year in the field for date of creation of an artifact, but defined as a day in the field for date of birth of an artist. The communication protocol will not assure the "correct" meaning of 3/7/93; only the data value standards adopted by participants in the interchange can do this. But users need also know that the interchange does not constrain their representation of the same data within their own system as 7/3/93 or their system keeping the month and day of creation of an artifact even if the interchange requires only the year. In other words, common definition of the interchange data is critical to accurate communication but it does not dictate the organization, representation, or more detailed definition of data within the user's own system.
Finally, for interchange which is part of an interdepartmental or inter-institutional process, the interchange agreements must be made explicit and formal in a service definition which is a detailed specification of the consecutive processes of a transaction. For example, a service definition for the processing of a request for a loan would specify what data it would contain, who is authorized to make such requests, what should be done with the data received and what information is expected by way of reply.
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