It wasn’t long ago that my article on standardization issues came out in “Lab Manager Magazine.” The problems, of course, are that standardization efforts often fail and that there are so many efforts going on that end-customers don’t hear about them all.
At IMACS, I got into a number of conversations with customers where I mentioned some of the current standards efforts such as the Pistoia Alliance (http://www.pistoiaalliance.org/) and the AnIML standards. Not a single customer had heard of them. That’s not much of a surprise, actually, because it’s the industry insiders who attend multiple conferences that get exposure to more of these efforts and tend to be more familiar with them. Customers often attend a single conference in a year, if that, and if they don’t attend the conferences where these potential standards are presented, they don’t hear about these efforts, at all.
When I brought up these standards, reactions varied. The most common response was mainly surprise. Overall, I think folks were suffering from information overload, so general surprise seemed an appropriate reaction to yet another piece of information. One person asked how to spell “Pistoia” and I saw at least that person write it down, probably intending to look up more information at a later time, but I did take the opportunity of stunned silence to give a couple sentences on bothPistoia and AnIML.
However, there was at least one response that was in the “I don’t care” category and I think that’s a mistake. Here’s why: even in my “Lab Manager” article, I talk about the fact that most standards efforts don’t provide a final product for us and that there are many standards out there that compete with each other that it’s difficult to follow them all. However, as I mentioned in the “Contract Pharma” article that I linked-to in my post about contract labs, the other day, contract labs are getting more pressure to electronically share data with their customers. Where their customers are pushing for this and creating some of these proposed standards, some of which might compete with each other, it’s probably the contract labs that will face the biggest squeeze of having to support many formats. While there are still contract labs doing things that are so specialized that they’re not forced to comply with some of the electronic interchange, the contract lab space appears to be continuing to become yet more competitive, meaning that as their customers continue to push them for this that this could become the competitive advantage that some contract organizations have over others. It’s probably in the best interests of all contract organizations to watch these standards, carefully, to see which ones are gaining traction. In fact, if a standards organization appears to be strong and to be promoting useful standard exchange formats, contract organizations would be well-served to get involved and promote those standards in an effort to eventually reduce the number of different formats they’re required to support.
I know everyone is busy — too busy to get involved in every standards effort that comes along. However, keeping abreast of them at a high level could make the difference between being aware of potential changes in time to comply with them versus being caught unaware and scrambling to comply in the event that any of these standards do eventually take hold.