In May 1997, Cisco and Microsoft announced a strategic alliance to integrate directory services with network management applications. The announcement evoked a strong response from vendors. Many network vendors queried Microsoft and many directory service vendors queried Cisco about being a part of the alliance. Cisco and Microsoft agreed to open participation in the initiative to outsiders, which paved the way for an open standard.

At an open design review in November 1997, Cisco and Microsoft presented their idea of forming an ad-hoc working group that included customers and vendors from various backgrounds and interests. Although the Cisco and Microsoft competitors in attendance were skeptical, they agreed to support the initiative if a recognized standards body adopted it. An ad-hoc working group formed and began working on the draft specification.

After the working group completed the first draft, it held a meeting in March 1998 to present technical implementations and review the updated schema and information model. At that meeting, the working group announced that the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) would consider the formal adoption of the Directory Enabled Networks (DEN) specification. The working group also announced that a customer advisory board would be formed to help ensure DMTF's adoption of DEN.

In July 1998, the customer advisory board reviewed a revised schema and specification. In September 1998, the DMTF adopted DEN 3.02 and formally incorporated it as an extension to the Common Information Model (CIM) 2.0 specification.