The problems of “standards”

This is a good post showing the problems of “Standards” and how they aren’t necessarily a guarantee of any kind of interoperability.

Standards can not force a vendor to be interoperable. If a vendor wishes deliberately to withhold interoperability from the market, then they will always be able to do so, and, in most cases, devise an excuse using the text of the standard as a scapegoat.

You can’t rely on any representations about a “standard” unless there’s clear evidence of different implementations working together.

This really matters for ELNs, for two reasons:

  • Your data is locked up in the ELN unless you know you have proved you can get it out.
  • The need for long term (typically 30+) access to proof of experimental activity for Patent purposes means you can’t rely on any of the existing vendors being around, or the software you are currently using being functional.

We recommend that customers reassure themselves before they purchase any ELN product that they can get the data they need out into some suitable format – you have leverage with your supplier before you purchase, after that you’re locked in. I am amazed how many customers are aggressive about price discounts etc. but don’t look carefully at the “open data” situation – which is surely much more important than a 3% cost saving on the license price.

There are a number of ELNs around at the moment which can’t reliably create a PDF of the experiment. To some extent it’s a hard problem, but my concern is the “How do we get our data out” is answered with a wave of the hand and “You can just export to PDF” and everyone takes that at face value. In fact in some cases the PDF export facility is unreliable, doesn’t contain all the data, and can’t be automated! Buyer beware…

In terms of picking good “standards” we prefer published, straightforward, and well-used file formats. In our case that currently means XML and PDF/A, both of which are very open and used extensively by a wide range of software.

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