Metaphor: ISO 15926 is Like a Babel fish

We have already mentioned The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In it, Arthur Dent hitches a ride on a passing Vogon spaceship just moments before the spaceship blows Earth to smithereens to make way for an interstellar bypass. When he is discovered by a Vogon, Arthur is given a "Babel fish" to put in his ear. The Babel fish enables Arthur to understand what the Vogon is saying. From the book:

The Babel fish forms a symbiotic relationship with the person who carries it in his ear. The Babel fish feeds on the brain wave energy from around its host. It absorbs the unconscious mental frequencies from this energy, more or less, as food. Its excrement is a so-called telepathic matrix of conscious thought frequencies combined with the nerve signals from the speech centers of the brain which supplied them, which is picked up by the mind of the host. Basically, then, if you stick a Babel fish in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language.

Bringing this metaphor into the field of plant design, ISO 15926 is similar to a Babel fish in that it translates the descriptions of plant objects from one company's database to that of another. The important thing to note here is that the meaning of all the terms is maintained. You do not have to rely on the context of the information to know what individual terms mean.

The metaphor of the Babel fish is a pretty good one, but there is a slight difference. The Babel fish translates thoughts directly from Vogon into English in one operation. ISO 15926 will do this in two steps using a middle, neutral layer. If you used ISO 15926 to translate Vogon to English, it would first translate Vogon into intermediate standard descriptions and then from these standard descriptions into English.

Using a middle layer of standard descriptions is an important step we will examine in more detail, but briefly the middle layer is what makes it all work. Each organization's "Babel fish" (which we will call an ISO 15926 interface from now on) only has to understand these standard descriptions, not the descriptions in the proprietary operations of every business partner.


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