International Standards and Fourth Industrial Revolution  

Md Abu Abdullah     | Published: October 12, 2018 21:44:15 | Updated: October 16, 2018 20:22:08

Imagine a world where your credit card would not fit into every cash machine. Also, imagine a world without telephone codes, country and currency codes and access to internet. If we don't have standards, or communication between people and machine, it would have been extremely difficult.

A standard is a document that provides, inter alia, requirements, rules, and guidelines, for a process, product or service. Standards are the result of a consensus and are approved by a recognised body aimed at achieving the optimum degree of order in a given context. The process of formulating, issuing and implementing standard is called standardisation.

Primary aim of standardisation are fitness for purpose, interchangeability, variety reduction, compatibility, better utilisation of resources, transfer of technology, better communication and understanding, removal of trade barriers and  guarding against factors that affect the health and safety of consumers.

International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) develops standards by a panel of experts within a technical committee. ISO has developed nearly 20,000 standards covering almost every aspects of daily life.

There are almost 100 international level standardisation bodies working on different specialised areas. Some commonly known bodies are International Electro-technical Commission (IEC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), International Plant Protection Convention and Codex Alimentarius Commission.

There are active regional standards bodies like South Asian Regional Standard Organisation and Committee for European Norms etc. Prominent national standards bodies are British Standards Institutions since 1901, Standards Australia established in 1922 and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) that has been a member of the ISO since 1974.

The main functions of national standards bodies includes preparation and promulgation of national standards, promotion of the implementation of standards by industry, and certification of products, maintain and update latest information on standards-related technical matters and represent the country in different international forums of standards.

Standards provide benefits to different sectors of society in different ways. For a manufacturer, standards rationalise the manufacturing process and eliminate or reduce wasteful material and labour. Also, it does reduce inventories of both raw materials and finished products and the cost of production.

For customers, standards assure the quality of goods and services, better value for many, and easier to settle disputes with supplier(s). For traders, standards provide a workable basis for acceptance and rejection and consequential disputes. For technologists, standards provide starting points for research and development for further improvement.

Every year, the World Standards Day is observed on 14 October. Some countries even observe standards week by organising seminar, workshop and distribute standards awards. This year, slogan of the Day is 'International Standards and Fourth Industrial Revolution'. The ISO, IEC and ITU determine the theme of the Day.

Just as standards were crucial during the first industrial revolution over 250 years ago, they will also play a critical role in the fourth industrial revolution. Steam power transformed the production method and the way of life of many societies during the first industrial revolution. Later on, the transition from manual work to machinery and factory work needed standards. It's like replacing machine parts and enabling specialised mass production of components. After introduction of computer, automation and communication technology, a lot of changes have taken place in our life and economy.

Today, standards will play a key role in the transition to new era. The speed of change we are witnessing would not be possible without them. Innovators rely on international standards as is offered by ISO, IEC and ITU to ensure compatibility and interchangeability, so that new technologies can be seamlessly adopted. They are also a vehicle to spread knowledge and innovation globally.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to the emerging technologies, which are blurring the traditional boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds. The increased connectivity of people and things will impact the way we produce, trade and communicate.

The rapid pace of change brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution has its challenges. Robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will take over more and more tasks, which were previously done by the humans. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, will change the way we make goods, and give us the ability to "print things" at home. As everything from plane to baby monitors are connected digitally, the vulnerability of data and the consequences of a breach are growing exponentially.

These are only some examples of the issues presented by a new generation of smart technologies characterised by big data-increased integration, cloud storage and open communication of devices to name a few. International standards are a powerful way to ensure safety and minimise risk. For example, security standards can keep our data safe and deter hackers. And safety standards for robots will make it easier to interact with humans.

To match the demand of fourth industrial revolution and regional and international standards, we need to focus on curriculum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We teach our young children to be obedient, now we need to change it and teach them to ask more questions and think outside the box. What we learn today may be redundant after a few years. Therefore, emphasis should be on continuous learning and relearning to meet the demand of the time.

These new technologies will impact all disciplines of economics. Our business leaders must rethink their business models and invest in research and development. As the government tries to keep pace with these emerging challenges, they should take a collaborative approach with all stakeholders. Everyone must get ready for it, for t is the benefit of our future generation.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has begun, but standards are needed more significantly than any time before in order to seize its full potential for the betterment of society.

Md Abu Abdullah is a

retired Additional Secretary.

Share if you like