Meeting standards in an evolving society

The thickness of your windows, the performance requirement of your toilet, the way your house is wired and the sun protective nature of your clothing all have one thing in common: standards. To understand more about the importance of standards Jonathan Jackson speaks with Standards Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans.

Every business sector is bound by a set of standards. They are hidden in the shadows of industry, but look hard enough and you will find the ties that bind good practice with economic efficiency and sustainability.

Standards Australia is the country’s oldest standards provider and the nation’s peak non-government, not-for- profit standards organisation. As competitors have arisen, this 95-year-old business has maintained its relevance and market leadership by staying true to its vision: to enhance the nation’s economic efficiency, international competitiveness and contribute to community demand for a safe and sustainable environment.

“The role of Standards Australia – if you look at our role over the last 95 years, is to be part of the technical infrastructure of business and to create the documentary standards to allow Australian businesses to trade internationally,” says Standards Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans.

The importance of standards for economic operability shouldn’t be underestimated. According to Dr Evans they are necessary for Australian businesses to operate internationally and prepare businesses for trade facilitation. It is thus part of Standards Australia’s purview to create brand new standards that can be taken to the world.

It should be noted that the organisation does not enforce, regulate or certify compliance with these standards. Instead Standards Australia  facilitates the development of standards by forming technical committees by bringing together relevant parties and stakeholders.

What does an appropriate industry standards committee look like? According to Dr Evans it is a group of disparate voices that come together with a common goal: stakeholders from all corners of the community and economy whose views are crucial to the balanced creation of relevant standards.

“When we work on standards, we make it clear from the start, that it is about consensus. One of the factors that make us leaders in the field is that we allow all stakeholders to be heard and if consensus among stakeholders can’t be reached we go back to them and let them know that there may not be a solution for them through our process at this point in time.”

Dr Evans does say that in most cases, consensus is reached as  the Project Managers and Chairs gain a sense of being able to reach agreement, with everyone on the committees determined to create standards that becomes locally and internationally relevant.

She is clear that the creation of standards may not always be the answer, however it is this clarity that is one of the foundations of this organisation’s continued relevance.

“I would say the longevity is due to relevance,” Dr Evans says.

“In 1922, Australia was driven by agriculture and industry, then came the war effort and beyond that automation and manufacturing excellence. Through all these periods there was a real need for standards.”

Standards Australia has been there at every step change.

“Many standards were foundational. Look at the Wiring Rules, we still need to wire our houses.”

These standards have been improved over time, but fundamentally the principles underpinning them remain the same. However, as we have seen industries evolve and new ones seem to crop up at the speed of light. Today we are living in the knowledge economy and within a society that undergoes technological change on what seems to be almost a daily basis. How do we prepare for this?

There has been a lot of work done within the walls of Standards Australia to ensure they are as proactive as they can possibly be.

“We have done a lot of work inside our own organisation. We have implemented better systems, processes and simplified these operations to ensure that when we release standards they are relevant.”

There was once the complaint that standards took five years to write and by the time of their release society and business had moved on. However, as part of Standards Australia’s pursuit of excellence in standards creation and continued dedication to relevance, the time it takes to create or update a standard is now just 17 months.

“We still send out the drafts for public comment, but now we reduce our time to market. As an ongoing procedure, we look at every part of the process and how we can make it simpler, faster and better.”

Dr Evans has been Standards Australia CEO for a little over four years. She was also appointed as Chair of the Industry Growth Centre for Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals (MTPConnect) in 2015 by the then Commonwealth Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane MP.

The Australian government has allocated $188.5 million to establish five Industry Growth Centres in key growth sectors: advanced manufacturing; food and agribusiness; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; mining equipment; technology and services; cybersecurity and oil, gas and energy resources.

That gives you an indication of the depth and breadth of the industries in which standards are required,

but the organisation and its development to continue to create relevant standards is in safe hands.

Dr Evans is one of the most respected women in business. We won’t go through her entire rap sheet here, however in 2014 and 2015 she was recognised as one of Australia’s 100 most influential engineers, and in 2016 she was recognised as an AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence.

Like any good leader though, she knows the importance of a strong team.

“How do we maintain relevance? I have a fantastic leadership team who get standards,” she says.

She also nurtures the organisation as a whole.

“What I want to make sure is that we create an organisation that people want to work with; an organisation that wants to be part of a changing Australia and a new economy. The economy is transitioning, so we need to make sure Standards Australia is a partner of choice.”

We mentioned competition earlier and Dr Evans doesn’t shy away from it; in fact she welcomes the choice and believes it is vital for industry. Yet, Standards Australia remains the best-known organisation in standards creation because it continues to drive forward into uncharted territory.

Industry 4.0 is case in point. For those unfamiliar with what this is, it alludes to the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and includes cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing and cognitive computing.

“A senior task force has now

been set up led by Jeff Connelly CEO of Siemens to look into the way forward with regard to industry 4.0,” Dr Evans says.

Dr Evans is leading the working group for the design and

architecture of what the standards may look like.

“Standards will underpin Industry 4.0. Standards Australia and Australia in general will be at the forefront of saying what is the right architecture and framework for Industry 4.0 to be successful.”

Businesses will need to establish global networks that incorporate their machinery, warehousing systems and production facilities as Industry 4.0 takes hold.

This will only be possible if a single set of common standards is developed.

“There is a commitment from both industry and government to create standards that will facilitate new production systems in the context of Australian innovation and competitiveness in the future.

“We will also be seeking to establish cooperation at the international level in order to provide industry with a platform that represents their interests,” Dr Evans said.

Blockchain is another evolutionary step forward and will again require standards.

“We recognise blockchain  is an important building block for future systems and business. The international standards committee for blockchain is run by Australia. There are 41 countries involved (27 as participating members and 14 as observer members), all looking to create a common language.”

So as you can see, Standards Australia has had its finger on the pulse for almost 100 years and continues to move forward with evolutionary change.

The organisation remains as relevant today as it was in the 1920s. This is for two reasons: one, because we need standards for our own protection; two, because Standards Australia remains at the forefront of change and is not only evolving standards, but its own organisational practices to ensure it meets these changing requirements.

Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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