NBN is the publisher of as many as 40,000 standards. Our task? To ensure that standards are developed and applied in Belgium. But what exactly are standards? And what are their benefits? Hendrik Deckers of CIONET, the global network for IT executives, interviewed our CEO Johan Haelterman about standards and standardisation. Curious? You can find the top five highlights from the interview below.
Johan Haelterman starts out by highlighting the importance of viewing standards not simply as documents, but as knowledge.
‘Our role is to capture expertise in Belgium and make it accessible to companies and industries. So we are in the sector of knowledge management,’ Johan emphasises. ‘So all the standards we publish are knowledge documents that both small and large companies can use.’
Standards help you cooperate with other companies and organisations in several areas. After all, good agreements make good (business) friends. To give a few examples, standards dictate how you test or produce things, and how you define a product or service. Standards can also dictate quality or safety requirements.
‘Sometimes standards are used because you must comply with them. This is the case with information security certification, for example. ISO/IEC 27001 is the standard of choice for information security. It’s a source of inspiration and, at the same time, provides useful guidelines. This standard is also widely applicable by different types of organisations,’ Johan points out.
NBN issues a total of 40,000 standards across various sectors. From ICT, technology, building products, and food safety to more trivial matters such as A4 paper sizing or clothing sizes. Another great example is containers; these are standardised so that the same container can be transported on a ship, train or truck.
Johan says, ‘We use standards in so many ways. And what’s interesting is that most people don't even realise it. But that's precisely because standards are so obvious. Just think about it: standards really are everywhere.’
How exactly do standards come about? Johan answers: "I find standards development fascinating myself. It's not like we quickly put our heads together and cobble together a standard. There’s a whole process involved, which makes a standard a reliable document."
In the first phase, NBN gathers knowledge in an expert platform where the standards are written. This can be done at different levels: Belgian, European or international. The experts draw up a document on which the countries concerned can vote in accordance with a strict voting procedure. A bit like the United Nations. ‘We represent Belgium and ensure that Belgian stakeholders accept the standards we develop at the international or European level,’ explains Johan.
NBN then publishes the standard, ensuring it gets the necessary recognition. NBN has an extensive standards catalogue and tools that make it easy to find a particular standard. The latter is an important part of facilitating the use of standards.
An impending recession, high inflation, a crisis in certain value chains, the energy crisis, low consumer confidence; the list goes on. Companies today are facing huge challenges.
‘We’re not here to change the world. But we are here to help companies and economies perform better, and to better protect consumers and the environment. Standards improve efficiency and help solve problems in value chains. They make the world simpler and safer. And especially in these turbulent times, companies need to find ways to reduce uncertainties. Standards help them do that,’ Johan concludes.
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