We all have our own structures to build, whether they be literal walls or more virtual in nature for systems and tools. But, with any infrastructure you build, you need a strong foundation. As we mentioned in last week’s blog, standards and best practices provide a solid foundation to build upon. But we need to use, adapt, change and sometimes create our own standards to make sure the foundation is purpose driven.

You wouldn’t use the same concrete basement foundation for my suburban home in Southwest Ontario as you would for my friend’s home in coastal Louisiana. We both have three-bedroom homes that are roughly the same square footage, with roughly the same amenities; our environments and needs, however, are vastly different. Could you have built them the other way around? Yes, but imagine the issues, merely from a weather standpoint, that my transplanted home would have with flooding and heat in the summer. And, conversely, imagine trying to keep my friend’s home heated and the pipes from freezing in the winter.

We need to write our own standards with purpose and intent. When you break it down and think about it, the effort is directly proportional to the task at hand. With smaller and less complex needs, the task is smaller. With more complex users or scenarios, the task is greater – but so are the resources available.

With a small need, it might be as simple as following the standards with a set of variances. For example, I did a small retail rollout for a client. Did they have large, dedicated telecom spaces to service their dozen or so outlets? No, but the principles of the standards could still be applied. For direct and indirect cost reasons, they used a dedicated, purpose-driven, pro forma sort of standard for their various locations because being too granular was too costly and impractical.

With larger and more complex needs, the resources available should grow in parallel. Here’s where consultants tend to play a strong role: Looking at various business needs and drivers, and balancing them with technical requirements to create a standards-based solution set for that specific task. Is the document itself called a standard? No. We typically skip that step because the consultant is engaged to facilitate a purchasing decision to complete the task. Their product would typically take the form of an output specification, whether it was for a tailored need or an engineered solution for something that isn’t available off the shelf.

Going beyond specific tasks to general needs, large and complex user communities may still want to create their own standards. In fact, I would go so far as to say that they should. Whether the document itself is a brief overview of goals and objectives (i.e. purpose) or is more thorough in its articulation of the need is entirely case driven. It may seem like an unplanned cost to develop, but it will provide greater continuity, effectiveness and efficiency in the long term.

An Example of the Need for Uniqueness

Using a university campus as an example, that type of environment could use the off-the-shelf products available from TIA, BICSI and others – but they are consensus-driven, technology-based documents that won’t serve the needs of the entire university (or may not effectively address nuances of a particular institution).

Where I went to school, they would reference the media and support system documents, as well as the generic and application-specific literature available. Because they have a number of faculties and premises, they would also use those documents, whether they be for higher education, data centers, healthcare, commercial or others; however, they would only address “technical” performance needs. What about the other realities, nuances and considerations they make and face on a daily basis?

Would it not be in their best interest to address things like working in historical buildings and greenfield vs. brownfield projects? Campus facilities span from brand new to two centuries old. At first, the task may seem daunting because we work in a typically prescriptive industry. Our guidance, however, can be more conceptual and descriptive, describing how we want to achieve our goals instead of exactly “how.” This could provide the framework for the small variances that I listed above, like a new coffee shop in the commons, or something more complex, like a refresh of a faculty building that requires a consultant and output specification.

Unconsciously, I think we all end up writing our own standards. We just need to make it more of a conscious, purposeful act. Then our technology applications will be built on the right foundation. We should embrace the good work of others, but modify it to make it uniquely our own and for our own purposes.

Do you think creating your own standards would be of benefit? Tell me about it in the comments section below!