G20 standards summit highlights key role of standards in global crisis management and digital transformation

The Riyadh International Standards Summit held on 4 November 2020 examined the themes of Global crises need global solutions – How international standards can help and Digital transformation and the role of international standards.

The virtual event was initiated by the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO). Organized with the IEC, ISO, ITU, Saudi Communications & Information Technology Commission (CITC), and Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA), and hosted by SASO and the G20 Saudi Secretariat, it was watched by 10 000 viewers. The organizers concluded with a call to action for the recognition, support and adoption of international standards of the G20 countries.

Panel 1 Global crises need global solutions – How international standards can help

IEC General Secretary and CEO Philippe Metzger participated in the first panel and thanked SASO and the G20 organizing committee for the opportunity to demonstrate the important role international standards play in fostering digital transformation, which has been essential in supporting economies and delivering key services during COVID-19.

The pandemic has accentuated the need to be prepared for and respond flexibly to all types of crises. Metzger noted that IEC was able to transition rapidly and smoothly to remote working, while maintaining core activities and services, as well as implementing a business continuity plan in a timely fashion, thanks to its 20 000 experts from 173 countries who work together in a truly global spirit, through consensus-based processes.

Technologies have been at the core of many responses to the crisis which has fast-tracked the digital transformation of many sectors. International standards underpin these technologies to make sure they are safe, interoperable and reliable for all users.

Metzger gave examples of how IEC International Standards and Conformity Assessment Systems have helped provide safe solutions during the global pandemic, for instance the IEC 60601 series of Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee 62 for electrical equipment in medical practice helps ensure the basic safety and essential performance of medical equipment, for patients and equipment operators. This year, IEC together with ISO, made standards freely available which help in the fight against COVID-19.

Additionally, IECEE, the IEC Conformity Assessment system for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components, provides third-party testing and certification for different categories of electrical and electronic equipment, including medical equipment. This service ensures that all electrical and electronic medical devices are reliable and meet expectations in terms of performance and safety, and also covers risks to patients, those who operate the equipment – doctors, nurses and technicians, for instance – and maintenance personnel.

Metzger also underscored the important work of the IEC and ISO joint technical committee for information technologies, which develops international standards for ICT and covers more than 20 areas, including AI, cyber security, AR and VR, cloud computing, IoT, data management, IT for learning, education and training. These standards support the technologies used to address different challenges during the COVID-19 crisis, for example to: 

  • enable populations worldwide to work and continue their studies remotely.
  • deliver essential healthcare services through telemedicine, thus freeing up hospital space and healthcare providers to concentrate on COVID-19 and other critical patients.
  • allow technology companies and research institutions to find solutions for contact tracing to prevent the spread of COVID 19.
  • provide guidance for cybersecurity, for instance through the ISO/IEC 27000 series of standards with guidance on conformance frameworks.

Moderator’s question: Covid-19 has increased our awareness of the supply chain and its security. What is the role of conformity assessment in protecting us?

Metzger: Standards provide the most value when combined with a harmonized approach to testing and certification. With its four conformity assessment systems – IECEE, IECEx, IECQ and IECRE – the IEC can ensure that systems, devices and components match the requirements of our standards, in a consistent and transparent manner.

For instance, IECQ which covers the supply, assembly, associated materials and processes of a large variety of electronic components that are used in millions of devices and systems, provides independent verification and assurance that the various components in the supply chains adhere to declared specifications including international standards, such as those of the IEC and therefore provide safety, security and certainty to the end users.

Other panellists included Sergio Mujica, ISO Secretary General, Reinhard Scholl, ITU Deputy to the Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, and Eng. Fahad Almoammer, Vice Chairman of the Board & Partner of the National Medical Products Co. Ltd. (DAMAD), Saudi Arabia.

Panel 2 Digital transformation and the role of international standards

IEC Vice President and Chair of the Standardization Management Board, Ralph Sporer participated in the second panel.

Sporer explained how digital transformation has become an important part of strategic thinking and planning for remote learning and working in many public and private organizations. The growth of digital infrastructures and the integration of digital technologies in day-to-day life are rapidly changing the way people live and work worldwide. 

The emphasis is shifting to how digital services and applications will “transform” citizens’ experiences and the way we do business, to improve quality of life and wellbeing and attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

International standards help societies and businesses embrace digitalization and foster the spread of new technologies in a sustainable way, because they ensure safety, enable economies of scales, introduce innovations to markets and much more. They harmonize technologies across regions, allow for a worldwide comparison and reduce the risk of stranded investments. Sporer stressed two additional points:

Standards build trust in new technologies, by ensuring quality, safety, security and enabling the general public to judge technologies and their impact on important aspects of life. They facilitate a better understanding of complex technologies, namely artificial intelligence, big data, autonomous driving and robotics.

Secondly, standards provide interoperability. Data is at the core of digitalization and data exchange has long been a focus of standardization. However, in order to manage vast amounts of data, we increasingly need the help of machines or AI. This requires interoperability for the understanding of data within and across domains. Standards offer descriptions and information models which are a necessary precondition to achieve interoperability.

Moderator’s question: Why is IEC well positioned for this change?

Sporer: Since standards are the base of digitalization, IEC together with its sister organizations provide trust, interoperability and harmonization of best practices. Without such international coordination, digitalization efforts will be falling short of the expectations or even fail. 

Other panellists included Scott Steedman, ISO Vice President for Policy, Bilel Jamoussi, ITU Chief of the Study Groups Department of the ITU Standardization Bureau, and Eng. Abdallah Obeikan, CEO of Obeikan Investment Group.

Comment from IEC President, Dr Shu

IEC President, Dr Shu commented on the panel discussions, stressing that the event was a great example of the global standards and conformity assessment communities working together to overcome the current health crisis and help prepare for future crises in whatever form they may take.

IEC Standards and conformity assessment underpin the technologies that enable the safe, reliable delivery of services such as education and healthcare and have allowed millions to work from home during the pandemic. They facilitate international trade and reassure all stakeholders, from governments and retailers to consumers, that products and services are safe, efficient and reliable. Shu emphasized that they also help the world to address major challenges, beyond the current crisis, that are reflected in the sustainable development goals. These range from increasing access to affordable, sustainable and clean energy, to making cities safer and infrastructure more resilient.

He concluded by reinforcing the call to action today by IEC, ISO, and ITU, under the auspices of the World Standards Cooperation, that all countries recognize, support, and adopt international standards to accelerate digital transformation in all sectors of the economy to help overcome global crises, such as COVID-19 and contribute towards the achievement of the SDGs.