IEEE ISTO Marks 20 Years of Helping Small Groups Quickly Develop Technical Specs

The technologies include blockchain, Internet of Things, and smart cities

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THE INSTITUTEFor the past 20 years, the IEEE Industry Standards and Technology Organization has taken on the administrative tasks involved with setting up not-for-profit industry trade groups—the sort that consortia, industry alliances, and startups need in order to develop technical standards.

ISTO sets up a legal infrastructure within which each group operates. It takes care of the financial, legal, and tax documents that are required, as well as setting up websites, holding meetings, organizing events, and other duties. It also assists with developing specifications, promoting the technologies, and gaining market acceptance.

Since IEEE formed ISTO as a separate not-for-profit in 1999, more than 50 groups have retained its services. They include the Blockchain in Healthcare Global, the Digital Illumination Interface Alliance, the Mipi Alliance, the Printer Working Group, and the Wireless Power Consortium.

“It’s a long process for consortia to incorporate,” says IEEE Life Fellow Marco W. Migliaro, ISTO president and CEO. “In the case of the United States, the group has to pull together all sorts of documents, file for an exemption as a 501(c) nonprofit organization with the Internal Revenue Service, and other tasks. However, with ISTO they don’t need to go through the incorporation process. We provide the legal umbrella and give them the 501(c) status. They can be up and running in literally days.”

ISTO is a separate legal entity, along the lines of a business league or trade association that promotes the interests of its members. Unlike the IEEE Standards Association, in which individuals typically participate in developing a technical standard and must follow IEEE SA procedures, Migliaro says, the companies in the alliances become ISTO members. Moreover, the alliances can develop their own procedures for standards and specification development and conformity testing.


When asked by The Institute to list some of ISTO’s most important achievements during the past 20 years, Migliaro named two.

One occurred in 2008, when ISTO paid off the line of credit IEEE provided to help get the organization off the ground.

“ISTO worked hard to build up its client base,” Migliaro says. “Paying off the debt led to more flexibility in how we run our operations.”

The other milestone was being recognized by electronic design automation company Synopsys in 2010 with its Tenzing Norgay Interoperability Achievement Award. The annual award is given to organizations that provide a platform for driving market acceptance, adoption, and implementation of standardized technologies.

“ISTO has been providing the much-needed infrastructure for industry-wide standards-based collaboration among technology users and suppliers,” Rich Goldman, Synopsys’ vice president of corporate marketing and strategic alliances, said in a news release about the recognition. “Their extensive experience in managing core logistics allows each industry group to remain focused on the technical activities. This is the necessary fabric for successful deployment of standards, leading to broad, interoperable solutions.”


ISTO has kept pace with the technologies that have emerged since it was formed, Migliaro says.

“When ISTO first started, groups were mainly from the telecom and mobile industries,” he says. “Members are still in those fields, but ISTO has begun to work with other areas such as high-performance computing and wireless power charging—which is one of its largest membership groups.

“We have also started working with data center optimization, Internet of Things, lighting, and smart cities. There are currently two blockchain groups, one in health care and the other in trucking. We have moved into areas that we never thought we would be involved in.”

Some older consortia have continued on with ISTO, Migliaro notes, even though ISTO estimated early on that the lifespan for a group would be three to five years. One example is Zhaga, which is developing standards for interfaces with LED modules in a lighting system. In 2017 Zhaga saw a need to address the IoT in the future and revised its charter and procedures to incorporate the technology into a “new Zhaga.”

ISTO plans to continue to grow its business and make improvements to its programs to bring down costs, Migliaro says. It redesigned its website this year, reorganizing its content and adding information.

“ISTO is a much stronger organization,” Migliaro says. “We now have two decades’ worth of experience working with consortia.”

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