None of this would be possible without robust, well-established International Standards which provide the base that enables technology to be interoperable and encourage investment in new ideas. Cutting-edge standards consolidate state-of-the-art knowledge and help foster innovation.
But creating the right standards when they are needed is not easy. Like taking a cake out of the oven, standard makers must find the right balance between doing it too soon when the cake is still uncooked – that is, the technology is not mature enough ; and leaving it too late, when the cake has burnt, and the benefits of standardization are lost in a confusing mix of rules, so that standards do not meet international requirements or provide global benefits.
As technology develops at an ever faster rate, this becomes a greater challenge for standardizers. It is crucial that we work at the pace of innovation. Which is why ISO is putting continual emphasis on being faster, simpler, better, and investing in the latest information and communication technologies – to meet these goals without compromising the solid process necessary for international consensus.
However, timing is not the only challenge. Take, for instance, electric vehicles. Research and development is maturing, and the time for standards is ripe. Without International Standards, industry will find it difficult to implement innovation and achieve the efficiencies and cost savings resulting from economies of scale in production and supply chains. Having to replicate infrastructures for the same technologies only diminishes competitive advantage and turns off consumers. Recent ITU (International Telecommunication Union) standards for cellphone chargers demonstrate the huge advantages to be had from compatibility with products and services from manufacturers and providers around the world. Ergonomic, safety and other such issues should also be considered globally.
However, as is often the case with innovation, competition and proprietary concerns can become barriers that get in the way of international efforts. Standardizers must take account of the different consortia or fora to bring all stakeholders on board, in order to consolidate resources and knowledge, and develop truly harmonized systems that cut across borders.
A great example of successful collaboration is joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology. Nowhere will we find more consortia (and fast-changing technology) than in the world of IT. Many of the experts that participate in JTC 1 also work in consortia. The committee therefore considers itself as a platform bringing together efforts through liaison and cooperation.
A recent example is the agreement with the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) to fast-track their standards through the ISO/IEC system, while still requiring a vote of approval from industry, government, public agencies, academia, businesses and other users that make up ISO technical committees.
In addition, ISO must also cooperate internally, as these new gadgets and technology rely on the work of different technical committees. Through this collaboration ISO brings together experts from different worlds (e.g. IT, ergonomics and cinematography), to develop the standards that the industry needs to succeed. And this is one of ISO’s greatest benefits: expertise from a wide range of experts from many fields and countries under one system.
International Standards will play a crucial role in helping potentially life-changing innovations like cloud computing to mature. Projects like the ISO Living Lab or new eServices aim to ensure that the organization evolves with the times, and meets global needs for standards – so that the cake is taken out of the oven when it is just right.
Thirty years ago the Internet was still the stuff of dreams; today we cannot picture life without it. I can only wonder what the future will bring next, proud in the knowledge that whatever it is, ISO helped it get there.