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Interview with Mr. S. Joe Bhatia, ANSI President and CEO
China Standardization 2023-05-30

How ANSI meets challenges and leverages opportunities in an evolving standards landscape


Based on your years of work experience as ANSI President and CEO, what are the main developmental trends of the standardization field in the coming years?

It is a pleasure to speak with you and reach your audience in China and beyond. As I see it, a number of overarching trends are playing out in today’s standardization landscape.

First, the rate of change in emerging technology areas is moving at an ever-increasing speed. To keep pace, the number of standards activities and venues has grown dramatically. Critical and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) have spurred a rise in standards activities among consensus bodies, treaty organizations, consortia, fora, and the open standards space.

Globally, more government and private sector players are actively engaging in standards processes, which brings us to the second trend. There is a big push for globally-accepted, technically-sound standards that support critical and emerging technologies and global trade. The open, rule-based standards system—following the principles of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement—fosters an ecosystem of growth, innovation, and opportunity. And that is why the U.S. prioritizes active engagement and leadership in international standardization venues like ISO and IEC, as well as other organizations that follow the WTO principles. This helps assure the integrity of the standards development process—a level playing field, open participation, and consensus—which enables globally relevant standards.

Third, given the increasing volume of standards activities, there is a strong need to attract and engage new standards participants. Many standards professionals are nearing retirement age, and we need to increase the capacity of the next generation to step in, take an interest in standards development, and participate actively and effectively. ANSI is working to attract underrepresented groups—including consumers—and bolster their capacity to contribute to the conversation.

Finally, the fourth big trend relates to the notable increase in the use of advanced technologies to develop and augment standards. The standardization community is on an accelerated track towards greater digitalization and machine learning technologies. Beyond the work being done within ISO and IEC, ANSI-accredited standards developing organizations are working to develop machine-readable—or “SMART”—standards and using new solutions to get there. Whether it’s augmented reality, AI, machine learning, or any other emerging technology being used, the digital transformation is helping to grow participation in standards development, increase efficiencies, speed time to market, and deliver innovative products to the end user.

To respond to the evolving standards landscape, what is the work plan and priorities of ANSI this year?

Given these high-level trends, ANSI’s Board of Directors launched the Evolving Standards Landscape initiative last year to address how ANSI and the broader U.S. standardization community can meet challenges and leverage associated opportunities. Four focus groups are examining areas related to education and training, messaging, organizing and convening, and the politicization of standards processes. I am very pleased that ANSI Board members have embraced this initiative, with 85% of members participating actively.

The current work plan is to engage the Board members, and the broader U.S. standardization community as well, in a close examination of the various issues. For instance, ANSI gathered broader input from our members at our Evolving Standards Landscape Summit during the World Standards Week in October 2022. And as the initiative progresses, we will continue to reach out to ANSI’s members, constituents, and other standardization stakeholders for their continued input. At this point, we can’t predict what the outcomes will be. But we will review all input and proposed action plans, and advance those that have broad consensus and impact.

Can you shed more light on the issues being discussed by the focus group on the politicization of standards processes?

At the beginning of the ANSI Board discussions on this topic, the members recognized that governments around the world are seeing the increasing importance of standards, especially in light of digitalization and other trends discussed above. In the U.S., we encourage government participation in standards processes, and in fact both the U.S. Standards Strategy and U.S. law and policy prioritize active government participation in and use of standards. In some cases, though, we have observed that governments may introduce political objectives into the standards process without fully understanding or considering the impact.

This phenomenon is not limited to only one country or government stakeholder, and ANSI’s discussions so far have focused on the need to raise awareness among policymakers and others about the risks of politicization, as well as the existing standards processes and the robust safeguards that most organizations have in place to prevent undue influence. The specific recommendations are still in development, in coordination with other focus groups on the Evolving Standards Landscape initiative.

The U.S. is one of the most active members of ISO and IEC, with the participation of ANSI and its U.S. National Committee. What achievements have been made by ANSI in international standardization work? What experience can be shared?

In all of our activities, ANSI is committed to partnerships and standardization that meet global needs and support a global trading system. The U.S. Standards Strategy embraces the globally accepted WTO TBT standardization principles and urges U.S. public and private sector entities to work with their counterparts in other countries to assure that standardization is not used to develop barriers to global trade. Openness, balance, consensus, due process, and transparency—these are the principles that lead to high-quality, technically-sound standards that create value all around the world.
Through our leadership roles within ISO and IEC, including at the governance and policy levels, ANSI supports the open, rule-based system. And as newer players enter the field, the U.S. is proud to help support their capacity to participate meaningfully.

One recent example of the support that the U.S. provides to less experienced members of the international standardization community is ANSI’s twinning arrangement with Association Sénégalaise de Normalisation—the standards body of Senegal—as co-secretaries of ISO Project Committee 305 on sustainable non-sewered sanitation systems. Twinning arrangements such as these provide a means to enhance developing countries’ participation, effectiveness, and leadership in ISO technical work.

As with ISO, supporting the IEC system through participation at all levels is also key to our international collaboration strategy and allows us the opportunity to work directly with our colleagues around the globe. The U.S. recently expanded its participation through the IEC Business Advisory Committee, and assumed leadership roles within the IEC Governance Review and Audit Committee, and the IEC Diversity Advisory Committee. The U.S. is also pleased to work with China as co-convenors on the new SMB standardization evaluation group, SEG 15, Metaverse. This important group will explore the needs for standardization and opportunities in the area of metaverse and related technologies, including development of a common definition of metaverse, recommendation of an initial roadmap for standardization activities, and identification of appropriate organization of the work within the IEC.

Additionally, the U.S. further supported international collaboration through our hosting of the 2022 IEC General Meeting. The U.S.-hosted event in San Francisco welcomed more than 1,500 participants from the international IEC community in the spirit of global cooperation.

Our role as a leader and contributor to international forums wouldn’t be successful without positive, cooperative relationships with our counterparts around the globe. And that is why ANSI continues to nurture and build on these relationships through collaboration, information sharing, and bilateral meetings with partners such as the Standardization Administration of China. We welcome further opportunities for collaboration in support of balanced trade and shared priorities.

ANSI has always attached great importance to standards education and made great efforts to engage the next generation of the standardization community, such as holding education and training activities and providing standards educational resources. Why is standards education so important? What advances have been made by ANSI in this aspect, and what experience can be shared with other countries?

In standards, all voices add value and we strive to bring everyone to the table. And with so much growth and changes in standardization, building a robust pipeline of skilled and effective standards participants at every level is imperative. ANSI has been keenly focusing on building that capacity, and attracting and upskilling the next generation of standards professionals. Just last year, ANSI brought together our organizational and government members to examine this very important issue and develop strategies for new and better ways of engaging new participants.

We’ve been expanding access to our education and training resources, and emphasizing outreach to university faculty, students, and graduates to grow awareness and competencies in standardization. For example, our University Outreach Program makes certain international standards freely available to faculty and students in institutions of higher learning throughout the U.S. But more direct knowledge of the standards development process is also key. So last year, with HP Inc’s sponsorship, ANSI hosted a virtual standards simulation workshop for new and emerging professionals, offering a hands-on training experience in standardization. We’re looking to host more of these in the near future.

Additionally, ANSI’s U.S. National Committee (USNC) to the IEC launched the Young and Emerging Professionals Program last year, providing a venue for getting new people involved in electrotechnology standardization. The USNC also kicked off the new Professional Mentoring Program, which matches emerging standards and conformity assessment professionals with more experienced professionals to promote retention, development, and the overall success of new participants.

Beyond the next generation, ANSI has also been updating and expanding our training courses for the entire community, including domestic and international standardization participants at all levels.

Finally, as standardization moves toward greater digitalization, ANSI has been working to enable faster and more efficient standardization and educating U.S. standards developing organizations on these technologies. We recently convened a series of meetings for our members and standards developing organizations to showcase and share insights on SMART standards and digital transformation efforts. We're seeing greater use of advanced technologies in standards, like augmented reality applications, which add contextual digital information to a physical space; and AI applications, which enhance a user’s understanding through contextual response to verbal questions. These technologies can also help to bring young people into the standardization community, both by attracting interest, and by making it easier for them to understand the content, application, and significance of standards.

“To improve the responsiveness of the standards system to the interests of consumers” is one of the requirements of the United States Standards Strategy (USSS) 2020. To support the implementation of the USSS, in May 2022, ANSI established the Consumer Participation Fund to encourage and foster participation of consumers in standards development activities. The 12-month pilot program is supported by five founding sponsors from the ANSI membership community—ASTM International, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), NSF International, UL Standards & Engagement (ULSE), and the Toy Association. Please introduce the pilot program and its establishment process. How does the program go now and will it become a long-term program in the future?

Consumer engagement in the voluntary consensus standards system is vital—not only for providing insights that can improve standards outcomes, but also to help assure the inclusiveness and integrity of the development process. However, through a series of ANSI-hosted roundtable sessions involving both consumer representatives and standards developing organizations, we heard from all corners of our community that attracting and engaging consumers is an uphill climb, with the steepest challenge often being a lack of financial resources to support participation at meetings.

Greater involvement in standards setting from inpidual consumers is critical to improving the safety of products that we all rely on every day. That is why ANSI and five founding sponsors launched the Consumer Participation Fund. With the goal of reducing financial barriers to participation, the fund reimburses eligible travel expenses and participation fees of consumer representatives involved in the development of a new or revised American National Standard.

To promote the fund’s availability, we have been working with a range of consumer organizations, educating them about the important role consumers play in the voluntary standards process. Because of COVID-19, however, there haven’t been many instances where consumers have requested travel funds, as they preferred to participate virtually. Now that COVID-19 is moving to the endemic phase and people are beginning to travel more, it is possible that we may extend the pilot period. Once the pilot ends, ANSI and an advisory group will assess the impact of the program and determine what, if any, changes need to be made to enhance the program—for example, if the eligible activities for reimbursement will be expanded. The initial focus during the pilot has been on health and safety standards.

Of course, a crucial aspect is ensuring the long-term sustainability of the fund. We will be reaching out broadly to both ANSI members and other potentially interested stakeholders to seek their feedback as well as additional commitments.

In the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way people work and live. How did ANSI adapt to the changes? What was the biggest challenge faced by ANSI in implementing the work plan? Any benefits gained from the changes that seemed negative and disruptive?

Without a doubt, the pandemic accelerated the digital transformation that was already underway in processes and systems across all sectors. ANSI and the U.S. standardization community are no exception. We’ve learned a lot along the way—and we continue to learn as we go.

Early in the pandemic, ANSI rapidly pivoted to new ways of doing things—virtually conducting operations, trainings, meetings, and more. Beyond our own business operations, we also sought to create solutions for the broader community. We quickly launched a portal with free access to international standards to help speed COVID-19 response efforts, including standards on medical equipment and devices; protective clothing used in health care settings; and business continuity management, security, and resilience. We also developed a webpage that became a hub of information for the U.S. standardization community——with links to our members’ activities related to COVID-19, as well as relevant international standardization activities from ISO and IEC. And our “Navigating the New Normal” webpage offers pandemic-related resources on hybrid and virtual meetings, workplace health and safety, business recovery and growth, and more.

In terms of ANSI’s own operations, because we had invested in our IT infrastructure, transitioning the business operations to virtual was pretty seamless: all staff had the equipment needed to carry on their responsibilities from home, and infrastructure was already in place for virtual meetings.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. The biggest challenge may have been knowing when we could safely bring staff and members back into the office and in meetings. But once again, we have been grateful for how adaptable our staff, members, constituents, and partners have been. And now, people are networking and interacting again, which is so critical to business relationships.

In terms of standards meetings, the virtual environment has brought both challenges and opportunities. On the plus side, we have seen that virtual standards development efforts are engaging greater numbers of participants, including consumers. After all, virtual participation is much less expensive, allowing more stakeholders to become involved. But on the flip side, we have been hearing concerns from industry about the loss of face-to-face interaction in international meetings. The virtual environment makes relationship- and consensus-building more difficult, and both are essential ingredients of standardization work. We’re also hearing from both U.S. and international participants about the challenges of international meetings taking place at all hours of the day and night.

It’s likely that a virtual or hybrid model will continue to play a significant role in international standards development. Especially when it comes to international meetings, the standardization community needs to work together to find the right balance between in-person and virtual participation—leveraging the benefits of both, while minimizing any challenges.

ANSI has signed the cooperative Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with peer organizations in China, such as Standardization Administration of China (SAC) in 2017, and Certification and Accreditation Administration of China (CNCA) in 2021. How will ANSI enhance cooperation with China this year? What achievements do you expect to be made in the cooperation?

Despite continued limitations on in-person meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ANSI’s communication and collaboration with Chinese stakeholders remained strong and robust over the past few years. With the renewed MoUs with SAC, CNCA, and the China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC), ANSI has been in communication with these key organizations, among others, to exchange insights on the latest strategic developments and priorities. This year, I am pleased to continue to serve as a Foreign Adviser of the China Standardization Expert Committee (CSEC) for a third term, following the kind invitation from SAC. I appreciate this opportunity to provide input to support China’s standardization reform under the guidance of the National Standardization Development Outline, as well as to foster further bilateral cooperation between SAC and ANSI. Finally, this past February, I was pleased to meet with Dr. Tian Shihong and the SAC delegation in person at the ISO Council meeting in Geneva, for the first time since 2019! Now that travel restrictions are loosening up, we hope to enjoy more in-person engagements.

We look forward to maintaining a constructive and mutually beneficial relationship with our Chinese counterparts, as we continue to collectively contribute to transparent, impartial, and inclusive international standards development.

Thank you again for the opportunity to reach your audience and speak of all these very important issues.

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