Five minutes with digital products licensing programme lead Nick Ascroft
Nick leads Standards New Zealand’s newly renamed digital products licensing programme that looks to connect entrepreneurs and innovators with standards content. We asked him to share more about what this means to users of standards.
What is digital products licensing?
Digital products licensing is the model for licensing standards content for the development of digital tools and apps. We once called it our value-add programme, but it makes sense just to say exactly what it is. We are licensing digital products (made from standards content).
How did the digital products licensing programme come about?
For years people have been requesting access to copyrighted standards content. If people want to use content in publications or learning materials, and the like, that was fine. We could do a simple licensing contract. We could formally give permission. But when someone wanted to use content from standards in a piece of software, something they might sell even, to try and help good practice or help track compliance, we said: no. We said no for two good reasons.
The first was that it would be difficult to assess the proposed product and determine whether it was in the spirit of the standard or if in fact it would do harm. Standards New Zealand are not experts in the subject matter of standards, and the committees we assemble to write standards are disbanded after the standard is published. How could we assess if the product was good? And shouldn’t any software based on our standards be sold only by Standards New Zealand to maintain the kaitiakitanga of the standards content?
The other reason we said no was because if someone else was to be selling the software, we didn’t have a formula or model for how to price any licence. But the fact we had said no more than once – and hearing that Standards Australia had been in a similar pickle – made us realise that establishing a model was a problem worth solving.
So what changed?
As part of our business transformation planning in 2018 we investigated how best to work with proposed digital products based on standards content. I was part of that work. A few things became apparent. Standards New Zealand was not a business unit with the ability to fund developers making good-idea software. This was not Dragons Den. It made sense for us to allow entrepreneurs to develop tools – or tailor existing tools – that generally helped the spirit of standardisation and good practice in New Zealand.
The key we realised was that we did not need to endorse any product, or to endorse the interpretation of a standard. This is true of users of standards generally. The way a standard (a document) is implemented involves interpretation and systems of practice that Standards New Zealand does not have to endorse.
The document itself has primacy. We didn’t need to endorse the product, but we needed this statement of the document’s primacy to be clear. We saw that if we required anyone selling products based on standards to state that the standard itself is the authority, and that users of a digital product based on a standard were required to purchase the standard itself, then there was no conflict. We also pulled together a model for pricing based on revenue sharing, and fee-free development.
If we were to ask what problem the programme is trying to solve, the real answer is: what problem have you got? A document can provide clear requirements, but the actions involved in determining and fulfilling those requirements can be tricky. This is all part of standards practice. If there is a digital tool that can aid ANY aspect of standards practice, that seems like a good problem to solve.
Are there any entrepreneurs currently part of the programme?
SAM for Compliance is the first product to go beyond pilot stage and enter into a full commercial licence. It is an existing product, with a cybersecurity focus, that helps users with self-assessment of compliance with security controls, including those outlined in standards. ‘Throw away your compliance spreadsheets’ their website says.
As of last month users of the product can purchase a module to assess themselves and track their ongoing compliance with three ISO standards. (Standards New Zealand is the local member of this international standards body.) One of these standards has only just been published: ISO 27002:2022 Information security, cybersecurity and privacy protection – Information security controls – see our recent article about it:
LawHawk offer a product that populates a contract based on NZS 3910:2013 Conditions of contract for building and civil engineering construction. It takes hours of work out of redoing the contract multiple times. They too hope to enter into full commercial terms soon. Watch this space.
Where to next for digital products licensing?
Now that we have a clear model for licensing we will be able to respond to all requests. The fact that the development phase as it stands involves no fee, makes it easy for new entrants. We simply have a licensing agreement that allows you to develop your product. Then when it is ready for commercialisation, we have a clear pricing structure.
What is interesting about this field however is that no two products are alike. Each one tweaks our understanding of the arrangement. How would our model work if someone wanted to develop a tool that they provide free access to? What if a tool is made for education purposes, provided freely to students in a particular institution? We will learn how best to work with each of these problems as we go.
The vision is to enable good standards practice in New Zealand through digital tools. We enter these arrangements with a principle of fair revenue-sharing that keeps costs non-onerous and does not obstruct businesses from the market. We are also looking at connecting developers with industry entrepreneurs.
Ultimately the purpose is getting those who see the problem in a field, and have a vision of a tool that will help, to connect with those who know how to build the vision into a digital product.
How would someone get involved?
If you email me and the team with your ideas or information on your existing product, I’ll be in touch.
I am continually surprised by the good ideas that come in. That said, any app should have a clear problem that it targets. The smaller the problem, the simpler the app and the more likely you will get a viable product off the ground. One of the best things about this programme so far is that it has appealed to industry players who already see problems in their own field with the application of standards.
These people on the ground know the problems better than the standards body. So working within your own field makes sense, as does having an understanding of digital products.