Why are international and global standards needed for the digital economy?
Without globally coherent standards and specifications digitalization would never have spread as fast as it did. As a matter of fact the global nature of the Internet, itself a network of networks, is based on globally used protocols. Coherent standards and specifications are needed to enable devices to communicate with each other. They allow for larger economy of scales, since products do not need to be adapted for each market, and significantly increase product benefit for the consumer. Without globally coherent standards or specifications we could – for instance – not connect our smartphones to networks when travelling in other countries, which would significantly diminish their value for us.
What are the particularities of standardization in the realm of the digital economy?
First of all, the immense pace of innovation in the digital economy requires a very fast standardization work. Second, in the realms of the digital economy informal standardization or specification bodies, such as the IETF, the IEEE, or the W3C, play a very important role – so does their cooperation with international standards-development organizations like the ISO or the ITU. Not least because, third, standardization in the digital economy increasingly concerns many different sectors. With the Industry 4.0 and the roll-out of artificial intelligence much more cross-sector cooperation and collaboration of experts from different areas are needed, for instance for the development of reference architectures.
What is the role for policy-makers for standardization in the digital economy?
Of course policy-makers should not be in the lead of standard development. Standardization has to be industry-led and market-based in order to be relevant, to keep up with innovation, and to address real needs.
Rather than striving to develop standards themselves, governments should set adequate frameworks to ensure that standardization processes have a high-quality outcome that is beneficial to both businesses and consumers. Governments should ensure that meaningful participation in standardization is open to everyone – independent of nationality or sector-affiliation. Furthermore, processes should be transparent, consensus-based, inclusive and balanced, taking into account the needs of all materially affected parties. Finally, governments can play an important role in supporting international cooperation between standardization stakeholders and facilitating participation in standardization processes.
Ensuring coherence through the actual use of international and global standards is the other side of the coin. The use of standards has to be voluntary to avoid discrimination or technology lock-in. Technical requirements should be avoided. The EU’s New Approach is a great model in this regard. Furthermore, governments should foster the use of global and international standards by giving appropriate preference to them when referring standards in public tenders.
What do you expect from the G20 in this regard?
Several of the points I mentioned have already been initiated in the G20 New Industrial Revolution Action Plan under the Chinese presidency. The G20 recognized that the development of standards should be industry-led, based on principles of openness, transparency and consensus, and that standards should not act as a barrier to trade, competition, or innovation. Furthermore, G20 members agreed on the common objective to encourage international multistakeholder cooperation on standards development. It is important that they now live up to these commitments and implement them.