International Standards Desk Reference
Copyright (c) Amy Zuckerman 2000

From International Standards Desk Reference

CHAPTER 1 - An introduction to international standards and standards development


Standards have always been a financial concern for business. For example, manufacturers can not compete for military contracts without meeting special standards. Earning a testing lab stamp of approval for an appliance may be required for market entry, as well as a means of winning consumer confidence and sales.

In a burgeoning global economy, standards have taken on even more economic significance. Businesses are finding that they must meet new international standards criteria -- sometimes earning certificates and marks at high cost -- to compete in the international marketplace. For this reason, it is becoming increasingly crucial for businesses to be aware of how standards are developed, and constantly track those standards that will directly affect them.

Companies with the resources to do so, should also become directly involved in international standards forums through the technical committees and advisory groups that develop standards. Even attending conferences relating to standards provides an opportunity to offer input to the process.

To become involved in standards activities means understanding how standards are developed, the various systems operating worldwide to develop standards and testing practicies, and the nations, individual companies, organizations and individuals -- the players -- that make this loosely-knit system work.

In terms of regionally based standards systems, the American and European are the most highly developed worldwide. Operating concurrently is a private sector international standards system where nonprofit organizations create global standards for business and government use. All systems operate quite differently with their own unique set of governing bodies and players.

These systems -- as well as emerging standards bodies worldwide -- will be examined in full to provide companies the understanding they need to adequately keep tabs on international standards trends. In addition, there are chapters that explore new and evolving standards that businesses will encounter in the global marketplace.


Standards come in many forms and are used in many ways. They may affect the quality of our medicine, ensure that mechanical parts are interchangeable and that products are produced in a standardized fashion. Standards may be used to evaluate job performances or even as a means of making sure that clothing and bedding are sized properly.

Because this book is about international standards its focus will largely be on industry standards. That's because most of the buying and selling that makes up international trade has to do with manufactured goods or raw materials. Service companies also operate overseas and also face requirements to meet quality standards. Their concerns will be addressed primarily in sections dealing with quality-related standards like ISO 9000.

When translated to the industrial or manufacturing sector, standards mainly have to do with:

* The physical makeup of a product, as is the case with steel

* Creating standardized dimensions, such as in finished paper or containers

* Allowing for uniformity of parts, such as screws, or conformity of equipment such as computers

* Product performance, meaning that the end result matches the design specifications, as in a car engine

* Health and safety requirements for products and equipment to prevent fire, explosions, electric shock, chemical and radiation hazards

* Controlling the environmental impact of products and processes

* Creating a common international communication base

* Process, or how a company operates

Within the context of the manufacturing sector, standards can be further categorized to reflect units of measurement, statistical methods or quality management techniques. Then there are standards that guide the drafting of standards. These are known as the format of standards, the principles of variety reduction (so-called preferred numbers) and modular coordination.
In general, standards are designed to address specific problems. What makes up a standard -- its technical content -- will vary considerably depending on the problem it is designed to address. For this reason the vast majority of standards deal with specific products or services, whether they be detergents on the manufacturing side or the transfer of banking funds on the service side.
Engineering design and calculation make up an important number of existing standards, whether they govern the design of concrete structures or calculate the thermal insulation of buildings. Many such standards form the basis of national building codes.

Another important function of standardization is to facilitate communication and information exchange. Standards devoted solely to this purpose are called terminology standards. Besides containing terms and definitions related to the product or service in question, they will include definitions, explanatory notes, illustrations and examples. For instance, standardized graphical symbols used in the building trade help promote international trade through a common code. Quite a few international standards are devoted to harmonizing these sorts ofÊ codes on a worldwide basis.


That standards can be potent tools, and weapons, is evident in the case of how Microsoft has managed to make its industry standards relating to operating systems the norm. In the process, the software giant has dominated the world market. Manipulation of standards can be a dangerous game, however. IBM attempted to impose priority standards on the industry at large, and failed.

"In understanding the two-decade history of Microsoft's increasing control over the computer software industry, nothing matters more than its strategic management of these points of interconnection: the creation, marketing and then manipulation of standards . . . Microsoft has a mail standard, called simply MAPI (mail application program interface). It has a new telephone standard, for letting sotware interact with telephone equipment: TAPI. It is belatedly but feverishly working on a proprietory online multimedia document-publishing standard code-named Blackbird. Microsoft abhors industry-wide standards-setting: its pattern, with increasing consistency, has been to refuse to cooperate with any standards procedures but its own . . .

"Microsoft is by no means the only company that seeks to exploit private standards. Netscape itself is playing a dangerous game with the standards that gave rise to the World Wide Web: creating proprietory `extensions' that work only with its own software and hoping that its market dominance will be enough to make them stick. The history of I.B.M.'s downfall in the P.C. industry is a history of failed attempts to impose standards by fiat. . ." (NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, Nov. 5, 1995)