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Software industry standards are general rules and best practices adopted by software manufacturers that help ensure consistency across products. Some standards are written out by software industry organizations and associations, but others are less defined. Any commonly adopted policy or way of doing business can be seen as an industry standard if enough companies participate. In most cases, compliance with software industry standards is completely voluntary. Still, compliance often carries significant benefits.
Industry standards in the creation and sale of software can govern anything from product labeling to platform functionality. Although individual laws might regulate some aspects of the software industry, there are no overarching software laws. Sometimes standards are designed to help businesses comply with local laws and formalized software industry regulations. More frequently, though, their purpose is to promote uniform standards of dealing across vendors.
The software industry, perhaps more so than many other industries, depends a lot on interoperability. A program installed on a computer system needs to not only work, but also needs to exist alongside any other programs already in use. The software needs to be stable, debugged, and secure. It can be hard to tell from product packaging if a commercial software product will work in the way that it says it will.
Compliance with certain software industry standards can act as a sort of “seal of approval” for a software company’s product and business methods. Formalized software industry standards, such as those propagated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), set baseline requirements for software manufacturing and sales. These requirements provide overarching software industry guidelines.
Membership in organizations like the ISO and OASIS is voluntary, but rigorous. Members must usually agree to develop their products to a certain standard and degree of care, and usually must also participate in a series of training and evaluation sessions. If a company can prove that its products and services are compliant with the governing industry regulations and standards, it can advertise itself as a member of that organization. It can also promote itself as compliant with leading software industry standards.
Not all software industry standards are formalized or enforced the way that organization-supported standards are. The phrase “industry standard” often also refers to any way of doing business that is considered common practice. If the majority of software manufacturers in a local area or market sector follow certain unwritten rules, those rules can come to be understood as industry standards in their own right.
A company that enforces its own uniform software industry specifications may also realize internal benefits in the form of efficiency and reduced error. Many software companies are large corporations with offices all over the world. Without a standard way of doing business, different offices could be following slightly different patterns for programming, document creation, or even records-keeping. Establishing standards for doing business at the outset can serve to streamline a company’s processes, and ensure uniform outputs over time.
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