Many IT shops are busy adopting standards for IT functions such as the help desk and software development. Now there’s a new effort to set standards for how IT is purchased, and it involves two of the U.S.’s biggest IT buyers: General Motors Corp. and the Department of Defense.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute (SEI) recently issued a preliminary report identifying best practices for every aspect of acquiring hardware, software and IT services, from setting service level agreements to managing the procurement process. The effort was sponsored by GM CIO Ralph Szygenda, who has been critical of the general lack of standards in the IT field and began working with SEI over a year ago to write some.

The result extends the SEI’s Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) – the five process maturity levels that are widely used in software development – to purchasing. The software maturity level is set by SEI appraisers who review an organization’s practices, and a similar rating process will be available to those involved in buying and selling technology, once the new standard is finished next spring.

“We see this as a leading global standard, ultimately,” said Deborah Yedlin, who is responsible for software quality standards for GM worldwide. “It’s a collection of best practices for acquirers like GM who work with suppliers to purchase technology.” GM worked with some 50 companies and government agencies to collect the best practices, she said.