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Economic and trade uncertainty, changing societal expectations, the impacts of climate change, and digital transformation were the main disruptive forces highlighted at ISO’s General Assembly that will affect the organization moving forward.

The event is part of a week of discussions held in Cape Town, South Africa, where the focus is on defining the organization’s future strategy on the path to 2030. “Without appropriate standards, it will be impossible to address multiple challenges at a global and national level. Standardization provides the tools to achieve sustainable development, to counter the immediate threat posed by climate change and, amongst other things, secure gender equality and optimal healthcare,” said Jodi Sholtz, Group Chief Operations Officer from the South African Department of Trade and Industry, as she opened the event.

Increasing trade uncertainty

Sholtz emphasized that standards are crucial to secure more inclusive economic growth. “Globalization has brought in its train massive new production capabilities and capacity. However, it has also resulted in growing inequality, economic concentration and economic marginalization of many developing countries. It is important that a more inclusive growth path is secured, and for that, standardization will increasingly be one of the anchors,” she said. 

As ISO President John Walter explained, “the economy is obviously one of the most important drivers of change and there is an unquestionable role for us to play in restoring faith in the values of free trade and multilateralism.”

Trade expert Catherine Grant-Makokera referenced the rise of economic nationalism, increasing levels of protectionism and falling confidence in the multilateral trading system. There has been a tenfold increase in trade uncertainty in recent years, in contrast to the relative stability of the preceding two decades. “This is important because an increase in the world trade uncertainty index reduces global growth projections,” she said.

Changing societal expectations

The changing expectations of consumers and society was another disruptive force highlighted as impacting the world around us. An example of this can be seen in the sharing economy where individuals offer their personal assets, like their vehicles or apartments, to other members in the community.

These new models bring new challenges for regulators and policy makers that standardization may go some way to solve, panellists highlighted.

“Standards are desperately needed in the sharing economy,” explained Mark Atwood, founder of ride-sharing app Jrney. “Does taking extra passengers in your car on a long journey impact your insurance? Does it change anything if these extra passengers were found through an app or your personal network of friends? There are no clear answers to these questions today.”

Tarryn Daniels from the Consumer Goods Council of South Africa emphasized that standards were needed to support the development of the sharing economy, but also the disruptive nature of these evolutions. “Those who stand to lose in the sharing economy are traditional industries that refuse to adapt and those using conventional business models that refuse to evolve,” she said.

Urgency for sustainability

The true scope of the impacts of climate change were highlighted by Regina Asariotis of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), using a concrete example from the field of global transportation.

“International trade depends critically on well-functioning transport links. Environmental challenges such as extreme storms, floods, changes in temperature, humidity or precipitation and rising sea levels will have significant impacts on transportation infrastructure such as ports,” she explained, urging for better risk assessment and preparation to ensure we can successfully adapt to climate change.

Digital transformation

Finally, the impacts of digital on all of us were also explored, with calls for the standardization community to embrace digital transformation. Speakers looked at what the rapid evolution and adoption of digital technologies could mean for businesses and society. For example, what does digital transformation mean for businesses? How are digital technologies changing what and how we trade? And how are digital technologies driving entrepreneurial growth and innovation?

Digital technologies are now widely adopted and new advancements (e.g. automation, artificial intelligence or blockchain) offer multiple opportunities for organizations, helping to boost their efficiency and productivity, create competitive advantage and promote innovation. It is, however, important to analyse which technologies have real value and relevance, and where investments should be made.

Together, these four trends – economic and trade uncertainty, changing societal expectations, the urgency for sustainability and digital transformation – make up the disruptive forces that will shape the direction of ISO’s future strategy on the path to 2030.

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Katie Bird
Head, Communication

+41 22 749 0431

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