NIST focuses on measurements for new IT technologies

Officials hope to develop predictability in information systems

NIST's U.S. Measurement System Web site

Related Links

What if it were possible to predict with scientific certainty that a complex information technology program such as modernizing the nation's tax-processing systems would be successful?

National Institute of Standards and Technology officials think it could happen if scientists make significant measurement advances in information science. "I hope it's possible," said Steven Ray, chief of NIST's Manufacturing Systems Integration Division. "Significant progress is possible."

Such is the thinking of NIST officials as they embark on a plan for meeting the nation's most pressing measurement needs in information science, nanoscience and other fast-growing areas of innovation.

NIST officials have dubbed the plan "Roadmapping America's Measurement Needs for a Strong Innovation Infrastructure."

"Measurements don't drive innovation, but they're certainly an important underpinning," said Mary Saunders, chief of NIST's Standards Services Division. Innovation, she said, is "more and more critical to U.S. competitiveness."

Standards developers, accrediting organizations, national laboratories, other science agencies and trade associations have a stake in the effort, Saunders said. NIST will host a series of workshops this year and a national measurement summit next January on information science and other areas of innovation, she said. At the summit, information systems experts, among others, will try to answer questions such as:

  • What do you need to measure that you can't measure now?
  • What can you measure but don't have confidence in its accuracy?
  • What can you measure in the United States but know that measurement is not accepted in foreign countries?
  • NIST officials have announced the first series of 10 workshops in which they initially will gather information about measurement needs in the magnetic data storage and broadband telecommunications industries, among others. They will create a measurement needs database to manage the information, Saunders said.

    Ray thinks that information science cannot advance without a rigorous approach to measurements. "How do we engineer things in IT? Well, we engineer things very empirically," he said. "And how do we predict their behavior? Well, we don't predict their behavior. That's why we build complicated systems and hold our breath and do lots of testing before we've determined whether or not a thing is going to do what we think it's going to do."

    The software industry is among those that could benefit from the NIST initiative.

    "We're certainly strong advocates of good standards, and measurement does provide the building blocks for good standards," said Gregory Friedmann, director of public relations at the Systems and Software Productivity Consortium, which represents aerospace, defense, government and other industries that build mission-critical software and information systems. "To the extent that we understand what [NIST] is planning to do, it sounds like a very good initiative that our members should benefit from."

    Ray has no doubt that NIST is on the right track with its measurement road map. "If we ever hope to be able to engineer ever more complex systems, which we absolutely intend to do, then we have to try to come to terms with some units of measure," he said. "Now, what are those units of measure? That's a completely wide-open question. I have some ideas. I don't have the answers. I have the questions."

    NIST's measurement initiative

    National Institute of Standards and Technology officials have announced a long-term initiative for improving the nation's measurement capabilities in critical areas such as broadband communications, data storage technologies and new health care and homeland security technologies. Agency officials have characterized the initiative as:

  • A public/private partnership.
  • A systematic approach to identifying long-term measurement needs to improve the U.S. economy.
  • A way to counter efforts by Japan and other nations to use their centralized measurement infrastructures to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology

    The Fed 100

    Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

    Featured

    • Social network, census

      5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

      As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

    • Rep. Gerald Connolly

      Connolly warns on workforce changes

      The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

    • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

      How will Trump lead on tech?

      The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

    • Login.gov moving ahead

      The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

    • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

      Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

      In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

    • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

      What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

      The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

    Reader comments

    Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

    Please type the letters/numbers you see above

    More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group