Explanation of the ISO “Fast-Track” process

The Fast-Track process for OpenXML is just now getting underway, and there about 6 more months of review before the ballots will be cast.

I got an e-mail yesterday asking why there was only a month for ISO to review the OpenXML submission and I figured I should clear this up. I've seen this misinformation in a number of blogs lately and it appears that certain parties have created some sort of panic that the formats are being pushed through ISO at a record breaking speed. This is absolutely false, and it's unfortunate that so much of the information out there is so inaccurate. Ecma submitted the OpenXML standard to ISO a few weeks ago (it's now officially called DIS29500), and it's currently in the fast-track process which is a 6 month review period.

  • Purpose of Fast-Track – created by ISO as a way of allowing standards organizations to submit one of their existing standards for approval as an ISO standard. This can only happen with something that has already been reviewed and approved as a standard by that organization. When the organization decides to submit the standard, it starts in ISO/IEC at the DIS stage (Draft International Standard).  Ecma's Office Open XML formats are now officially DIS 29500.
  • Who can submit a standard to ISO/IEC JTC1 through the fast-track process – The ISO/IEC JTC1 Permanent members (the National Standards organizations called National Bodies) such as ANSI in the US or BSI in the UK, plus standards organizations which have been granted A-Liaison status with JTC1, (for example, ITU-T and Ecma).
  • Who votes – Each countries NB (national body) can vote on the DIS ballot. In the case of DIS 29500, the technical committee assigned to the work is JTC1/SC34, which is the same group that reviewed the ODF spec. Some countries have a single individual that works with SC34, some countries have larger groups of folks involved, and some countries don't participate at all. Regardless of the number of folks a country has involved in SC34 work though, each country only gets one vote.

Timeline for a Fast-Track submission is at least 6 months

Contradictory Period (first month)

The first month of review is a period when national Bodies can express "perceived contradictions" they may find between the proposed fast-track and existing ISO/IEC standards or ongoing JTC1 standardization projects. This is a quick review to make sure there isn't anything in the spec that would invalidate an existing ISO standard.

This is not the point where people raise technical objections, missing content, poor design, etc. Instead this is where you want to make sure that the approval of this ISO spec won't cause another ISO standard to break. In the case of OpenXML, there really can't be a contradiction because it's always possible to implement OpenXML alongside other technologies. For instance, OpenOffice will soon have support for ODF and OpenXML.

An example of a contradiction would be if there was a standard for wireless technology that required the use of a certain frequency. If by using that frequency you would interfere with folks using another standard that also leverages that frequency, then there may be a contradiction.

5 month ballot

After the contradictory period is complete, the technical review begins. There are 5 months of review followed by a vote. In this time the national bodies for each country can pour through the spec and decide if there are any technical problems. At the end of the 5 month process, every country has the opportunity to submit a yes or no vote. With the vote they can include comments explaining why they voted yes or no.

No votes will be accompanied by proposed changes that, if accepted, would turn the no vote into a yes vote.

Ballot Resolution

Votes are tallied under the ISO/IEC DIS rule. Irrespective of the tally, if comments have been submitted, there will be an effort to resolve them. This effort will be even stronger if the no votes have to be turned into yes votes in order for the fast-track to pass. In the case of OpenXML, SC34 will be the group to convene the ballot resolution meeting, which is the chance to get together and work through the votes and comments. The ideal goal of the ballot resolution meetings is for everyone to reach a consensus. Maybe more detail will be required for certain portions of the documentation, or maybe it will even be decided to remove parts of the standard. These can all be negotiated at the ballot resolution meeting, and at the end of the ballot resolution meeting, all national bodies will be asked to confirm their yes or no vote.

How is this different from what ODF went through?

ODF went through the PAS process which allows them to skip the 1 month contradictory review and go straight into the balloting stage. Other than not having to go through the 1 month contradictory review though, the process is pretty much the same.

Well there you go. I tried to keep that really short. I know many of you are already aware of these processes, but I thought it might be good to write-up anyway.