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History of ISO 15926 and The Major Players

Status of this document: Working Draft

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  1. Abstract
  2. Markup Languages
    1. 1960s GML
    2. 1980s SGML
    3. 1990s XML
    4. XMpLant
    5. OWL
  3. Interoperability Projects
    1. 1991 - ProcessBASE
    2. STEP
    3. EPISTLE
    4. ISO 15926
  4. Interoperability Organizations
    1. Petrochemical Open Software Corporation (POSC)
    2. POSC Caesar Association


[Enter abstract]

During 2008 the interest and commitment to ISO 15926 as the preferred way to interoperate information between companies has been significantly accelerated. Along with all of the progress made by several acceleration projects, a watershed moment occurred during the ISO 15926 Software Vendor Workshop last May 2008 that signaled the “passing of the baton” of leadership to the software vendor community.

But it's taken awhile.

In the early 1990's quite a few organizations started projects to explore the possibility of developing a common language describing plant objects. Over the next decade many of these organizations found out about each other and decided to pool their resources. But the tools that ISO 15926 is being developed with have their roots as far back as the 1970's.

Markup Languages

1960s GML

Generalized Markup Language (GML) was developed in the 1960s and used in IBM's Document Composition Facility. GML was a set of macros that described the logical structure of the document, for instance, to declare some text to be a heading and other text to be a body paragraph.

In 1967, the first proposal was made to separate the information content of documents from their format.

1980s SGML

Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) is a descendent of GML. SGML was originally intended for publishing databases and text. One of its first applications was publishing an early edition of the Oxford English dictionary.

SGML is known as a metalanguage since it is used to describe other markup languages.

In the field of publishing, historically, markup has meant the marks that an editor makes when reviewing a transcript. For instance, marks to indicate that one phrase is to be rendered in bold face and another in italics. In an age of machine-readable text, this term has now come to mean special formatting codes inserted in-line with the text to give direction to the computer that does the publishing.

Metalanguage means that SGML can be used to create other markup languages. SGML has the means to describe which markups are required and how to tell markups from text. Thus, you can use SGML to create other markup languages.

The first working draft of SGML by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) was published in 1980. By 1983 it was ready for prime time and was adopted by the US Internal Revenue Service and the US Department of Defense. The next year the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) had gotten involved and in 1986 issued SGML as the international standard (ISO 8879:1986)

Of interest to the history of ISO 15926 are some of the reasons for using SGML:

  • In the government and law, large bodies of text must be readable for decades. Therefore it must not be stored in any proprietary format that may go out of fashion in a few years. This is also one of the reasons to use ISO 15926; the life of a typical plant also spans several decades, during which time computer operating systems and text handling software goes through many generations. The people dismantling the plant forty years later may not even remember word processing software that is widely used by the engineers designing a plant.
  • SGML was also used as a means to transfer texts from one system to another in a manner that preserved the intent of the formatting. Similarly, ISO 15926 is used to transfer information about plant objects from one system to another in a manner that preserves the meaning of the attributes of the plant object.



  • HTML is an SGML application that was the lingua franca of the Internet. If you wanted to publish something on the Internet, you coded it with HTML tags. In the beginning, HTML used generalized tags. For instance, <EM> some text </EM> meant that the enclosed text was to be somehow emphasized. Web browsers intended to be read with eyes might render the text slightly larger and bold face, or perhaps underlined. But web browsers intended to be listened to might render it in a slightly louder tone.

But by the mid 1990s the competing interests of some of the major players had exerted the influence and polluted it with a mash-up of tags for specific things. The industry needed a replacement.

1990s XML

XML, also a descendent of SGML, is also a meta language in that it can be used to define other markup languages. XML was intended to get back to the SGML roots without the SGML complexity. When it was released in its first draft in late 1996, its developers were not shy about proclaiming it to be “the holy grail of computing, solving the problem of universal data interchange between dissimilar systems.”

Since its introduction it has accomplished at least some of what was intended of it. For instance, most of our Office documents are now stored in XML format. Now it is true that the particular dialect of OpenOffice? XML isn't the best formed in the world, it's still an order-of-magnitude better than the myriad of proprietary formats that preceded it. Now it is much easier for third parties to reverse-engineer in order to open documents in different authoring software.

Of interest to the history of ISO 15926 are some of the implications of widespread use of XML in web publishing. Looking into our crystal ball we can see applications written by webmasters that will allow untrained users to write in something that looks like Microsoft Word, then upload their fine prose (or poetry, or...) straight in to the local content management system. And as XML-written documents displace documents written with proprietary software (and uploaded as inscrutable binary files), more and more data will be open, available to be searched and indexed, and therefore available for all.



  • SOAP


more to come...


Web Ontology Language

more to come ...

Interoperability Projects

1991 - ProcessBASE

Note to me: looks like a program to simulate processes (plant, computer?). it spawned some thought about transferring information. which lead to ProcessBASE, which lead to ISO 10302-AP221, which lead to STEP (or it already existed?) which lead to 15926




  • STEP
  • Industrial automation systems and integration - Product data representation and exchange
  • ISO 10303

ISO 10303 is an ISO standard for the computer-interpretable representation and exchange of industrial product data. Its official title is Industrial automation systems and integration - Product data representation and exchange, and it is also known as STEP or the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data. The standard's objective is to provide a mechanism that is capable of describing product data throughout the life cycle of a product, independent from any particular system. The nature of this description makes it suitable not only for neutral file exchange, but also as a basis for implementing and sharing product databases and archiving.

Typically STEP can be used to exchange data between CAD, Computer-aided manufacturing, Computer-aided engineering, Product Data Management/EDM and other CAx systems. STEP is addressing product data from mechanical and electrical design, Geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, analysis and manufacturing, with additional information specific to various industries such as automotive, aerospace, building construction, ship, oil and gas, process plants and others.

STEP is developed and maintained by the ISO technical committee TC 184, Technical Industrial automation systems and integration, sub-committee SC4 Industrial data. Like other ISO and IEC standards STEP is copyright by ISO and is not freely available.



European Process Industries STEP Technical Liaison Executive

EPISTLE is a virtual organization with no employees, no funding, and no legal status.

The membership of EPISTLE is open to those organizations that are consortia of companies working to develop standards for information management and prepared to commit resources with other members to achieve commonly agreed objectives.

Individual companies and other organizations may attend EPISTLE meetings on an observer basis, but are encouraged to join or form a consortium that is a full member of EPISTLE. Observers may only speak on invitation of the chair of the meeting concerned, and may be asked to leave the meeting at the discretion of the chair.

Membership The founding members under this new constitution are:

  • POSC/Caesar


ISO 15926

ISO 15926 is a standard for data integration, sharing, exchange, and hand-over between computer systems.

In the early 2000s, for modeling-technical reasons POSC/Caesar proposed another standard than ISO 10303, called ISO 15926. EPISTLE (and ISO) supported that proposal, and continued the modeling work, thereby writing Part 2 of ISO 15926. This Part 2 has official ISO IS (International Standard) status since 2003.


Interoperability Organizations

Petrochemical Open Software Corporation (POSC)

POSC started life as a consortium of 100 companies engaged in the production, refinement, and distribution of petrochemical products and of companies that supply hardware for those operations. POSC worked to share information among its members and to promote useful software modeling, data, and application integration standards.

At the 2006 Standards Summit & Reception in Houston on November 8, 2006, POSC Rebranded itself as Energistics

From its new website

Energistics' rebranding supports the new leadership goal of executing a market-focused business strategy. The mission of Energistics is to deliver to the upstream oil and gas industry the means to produce, deploy and maintain common information and data standards.

So it looks like only the name has changed.

POSC Caesar Association

  • Caesar Offshore Project
  • PetroChemical Open Software Corporation

The Caesar Offshore Program started in 1993 as an industry driven research and development project under the name of Caesar Offshore Program. It was sponsored by The Norwegian Research Council, Aker, DNV, Kværner, Norsk Hydro, Saga Petroleum and Statoil. The purpose of the project was to benefit the oil and gas industry by developing a product model for life cycle information. The focus was on standardizing the technical data definitions for facilities and equipment associated with onshore and offshore oil and gas production facilities. In the period 1994-96 Caesar Offshore Program was defined as a project of Petrotechnical Open Software Corporation (POSC), Houston, and changed its name to the POSC Caesar Project.

The technical work of POSC Caesar was more and more related to the ISO STEP standard and influenced by similar work in European standardization organization such as PISTEP in UK and USPI in the Netherlands through the virtual organization EPISTLE.

POSC Caesar Association was founded in 1997, as a global, non-profit, member organization that shall promote the development of openly available specifications to be used as standards for enabling the integration and interoperability of data, software and related matters for e-engineering and e-commerce.

POSC Caesar has a special responsibility for the maintenance and enhancement of ISO 15926 “Integration of life-cycle data for process plants including oil and gas production facilities". However, the organization shall be flexible and at all times align its activities with the needs of its membership.

POSC Caesar works now as a global standardization organization in close collaboration with other standardization organizations in Europe, USA and Japan.


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