At the Ready

Ready to produce resultYesterday I went underwear shopping.

This isn’t usually blog-worthy, but it actually tells you a bit of what we try to do here at Virtual.

One of our clients was due to testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.  Due to a massive 4-inch snowstorm that Washington isn’t terribly adept at clearing, his testimony was delayed until Thursday.   Since he was a precise packer, this meant he was out of underwear.

So I went to Macy’s and bought him some.

There’s a lesson here for associations.   Sometimes your members need complicated things…help on Capitol Hill, advice on a key issue.  Sometimes they need the basics.   And sometimes you can’t deliver on the complex items without the basics.   Are you paying attention to what your member’s really need?

Because no one should go commando to Capitol Hill.

For a technology consortium that plans to create any type of deliverables — particularly specifications — an intellectual property rights (IPR) policy is absolutely essential. Not having one will almost certainly discourage some or all participants from actively contributing to such efforts. Worse, adoption of your organization’s specifications will almost certainly be limited if implementers are not sure what licensing rights they have or need. Consortia do themselves a big favor, then, by defining and making readily available IPR Policies as early into the organization’s life cycle as possible. What’s more, associations are generally encouraged to develop such policies before any work on deliverables has begun. While all IPR Policy negotiations among members of a technical consortia can expect to get contentious at some point — and why not, given the potential financial stakes involved — the process only gets thornier when a late-to-bloom IPR Policy is the only thing standing in the way of technical progress.

Given the pains and complexity involved in getting an effective IPR Policy negotiated among multiple stakeholders, many consortia tend to post their IPR Policies to the website and try to never think about them again. As tempting as that may be, it’s not really the best strategy. In fact, most legal counsels will tell you that no IPR Policy should be considered “set in stone.” Rather, all consortia should endeavor to formally review their IPR Policies (and ideally in conjunction with that association’s legal counsel) at least on annual basis. There are several important reasons for this recommendation, including:

- To ensure the IPR Policy still reads well against the latest regulatory climates among the different countries and jurisdictions where the materials developed may be used. For instance, regulatory agencies in the U.S. are currently scrutinizing policies around RAND-based IPR Policies more than ever before, the worry being that many RAND-based policies are too loose to enforce. Against this backdrop, some associations have already begun tightening up their definitions of RAND licensing, or adjusting their policies altogether.

- To check that the organization’s IPR Policy still aligns with the needs and expectations of the industry. For instance, are organizations not adopting your specifications because the license terms are too prohibitive? Or maybe too loose? Are implementers finding it hard to procure licenses from member companies?

- To do occasional housekeeping. As noted above, many associations forge their IPR Policies before any work in the organization is ever done. This is a good thing; however, such policies cannot always forecast all of the needs and edge cases of a consortium that’s been in operation for a few years. Conversely, as they evolve, many consortia find that their IPR Policy is heavier than needed. Paring down un-needed parts of the policy should not be difficult, and most efforts to do so have positive consequences for your organization.

The bottom line is that while entirely necessary to any tech consortium, its IPR Policy shouldn’t be perceived as a scary document — or an untouchable one. Rather, it should be seen as a living document that an association can and should adapt from time to time to suit the needs of its members and its industry.

The Right Founding Members

The founding members of an association will define it for many years to come. Prospective members and opinion leaders often look at an organization’s founding members as a way to establish how likely that organization is to succeed.

That’s why it’s so important to think about your mix of members at launch. Consider:

Industry leaders. There are some companies that people expect to see at the table because of their industry position. Launching a mobile-based standards setting organization, for example, without players from major handset makers such as Samsung, Apple or Motorola will not pass the “credibility test.”

Large and small. Large players often like to be around the smaller players, as they’re nimble and drive market innovation. Small companies like to be around large players as a chance to make connections. It’s important to have both at the table initially to show your consortia won’t be strictly for one or the other.

Geographic diversity. One of the biggest (often legitimate) criticism I hear of many groups is “they’re too U.S.-centric.” Consider this from the outset by ensuring that your founding members reflect the geographic diversity that you’re striving for.

Besides getting the right members at the table, you need to be ready to capitalize on their willingness to engage. Build the cadence for engagement from the launch momentum. Involving your founding members early and often will solidify your positioning with this key constituency and set a positive tone with those that can help drive your future success.

I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past few weeks on the road. Heck, I’ve spent a great deal of time over the last few decades on the road. But as I was circling Logan again today due to thunderstorms (nothing like a 2.5 hour flight from DC-Boston to give you time to think), I started thinking about a few ways technology has made my travel experience so much different over the past few years.

Here’s a few that spring to mind—remarkably all came of age in the last ten years.

1. Smartphones. What did I do in taxis when I couldn’t check my email? Of course, ten years ago the driver may not have been on the phone for the whole trip as well.

2. Wi-Fi. It’s only ten years ago that Wi-Fi was a “technology to watch” in PC magazine. Today, it’s ubiquitous. I’ve come to expect it everywhere—at the hotel, on the plane, you name it.

3. GPS. I can’t believe I ever used to look at a map to get where I was going. Oh, wait, I didn’t, I just got lost a lot and wouldn’t ask directions

4. Camera phones. I love sending my kids photos of where I am and love getting their messages back. It’s hard to believe that I saw my first camera phone at a standards meeting ten years ago and at the time, industry analysts called them a fad.

An interesting thread that runs through all of these is standards. From 802.11.b in Wi-Fi to any number of smartphone standards, the standards community has helped revolutionize the way I travel.

I guess that’s only fair, since I’m often traveling for standards meetings.

Can’t wait to see what the next ten years will bring. Maybe I’ll be watching from home as the Andy-hologram hits the road in my place.

Here’s hoping the hologram is more patient during flight delays than I am.