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New ISO standard kind-of explains how to ignore standards

Meet ISO/IEC TR 38504 - Guidance for principles-based IT governance

The International Organization for Standardization this week signed off ISO 38504, new “Guidance for principles-based standards in the governance of information technology.”

And ironically it is almost an anti-standard.

To understand why, know that the opposite of principles-based governance is rules-based governance. In the latter, organisations look at the rules under which they must or choose to operate and methodically demonstrate that they comply with each and every instruction. Rules-based governance is usually applied by strongly-regulated organisations or IT shops that like to nail down every last byte and manage change assiduously.

By contrast, as the ISO 38504 summary explains, “A principles-based approach to standardization is aimed at providing non-prescriptive guidance”. Principles-based guidelines are considered helpful because “it can identify the outcomes of applying the principles without specifying explicit methodologies, structures, processes and techniques needed to achieve the outcomes.”

The new standard is therefore a standard explaining the best way not to obey every last instruction in standards, but still emerge with processes that help IT to remain well-governed.

The mind boggles.

The good news is that the standard confesses to being something for standards wonks, rather than something that will land on your desk any week soon.

“The intended audience for this document are the editors, working group members, reviewers and other participants in the development of principles-based standards and technical reports as well as governance of IT practitioners,” rather than something IT pros need to worry about immediately. ®

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