On the occasion of the Alpbach Technology Forum, the annual summit meeting of the Austrian research, technology and innovation community, the Honorary Board of Austrian Standards convened. The general theme of this year's forum - "Diversity and Resilience" - prompted the Board to focus on the role of standards at the intersection between the economy, policy-making, law and science.
Diversity is a key factor when it comes to solving new and complex problems and achieving resilience. "Unfortunately real diversity is still wishful thinking in many areas," states Franz Fischler, President of the Honorary Board and President of the European Forum Alpbach. "Diversity is not a foregone conclusion. We will only succeed if we establish interdisciplinary networks and leave our 'thought silos'. Standardization is a best-practice model for thinking diversity in a new way," believes Fischler.
Standards can help managing diversity successfully: Different people from different disciplines and industries who come from different countries and have manifold, sometimes also conflicting ideas, interests and opinions work together on sensible solutions for concrete practical problems.
While existing diversity efforts undertaken in enterprises or politics often progress slowly and not infrequently result in gridlocks or a polarization of views, standardization manages to achieve a convergence in the diversity of ideas, capabilities and opinions since standards are developed in a process that is open and transparent and aims at arriving at a consensus on technical contents. In this way, standards also contribute to resilience: to the resilience of products, services, methods and processes as well as the economy and society as a whole.
Klaus Wucherer & Peter Skalicky: Digitization changes everything
"Digitization brings about profound changes for all aspects of the economy. Active participation in digital transformation and the successful management of its consequences are a critical factor for European location policies," explains Honorary Board member Klaus Wucherer, supervisory board member of several German enterprises and former president of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
"Standardization is an efficient tool for speeding up digital transformation and exploiting opportunities. In the age of the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0, standards play a key role in networking technical systems and applications and in making them efficient and safe to operate," stresses Peter Skalicky, former rector of the Vienna University of Technology.
Digitization, however, will also open up new opportunities in the standardization process itself and, at the same time, result in new requirements: In view of the increasing networking of business segments and industries, it becomes less and less possible to relate the subjects of standardization to classic fields of technology and engineering. Moreover, technical progress and shorter product cycles accelerate the standardization process. This calls for a rapid response by sensible standards that are quickly applied in product development.
Brigitte Ederer & Claus Raidl: The world market needs standards
Today, more than 90 percent of the standards applying in Austria are developed at the European or international level. "There are studies that show that the value creation of a country is directly related to the extent to which enterprises and other organizations use international standards," says Brigitte Ederer, former EU State Secretary and former board member of Siemens AG and a new member of the Honorary Board of Austrian Standards.
The manager with international experience highlights the example of China. The "Made in China 2025" strategy presented roughly three years ago clearly understands China's participation in international standardization as a part of the country's strategy of global economic expansion - it is not a coincidence that China has pursued a strongly influencing standardization policy for quite some time.
"Chinese companies have long been world-class players and are already advancing into high-tech segments in many fields. Europe also has to differentiate itself by advanced know-how in order to remain competitive in key technologies such as IoT and blockchain and to be able to hold its ground as an innovation frontrunner on the international level," emphasizes Claus Raidl, President of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank.
Standards are an important driver of innovations and support companies in bringing competitive products and services to market that are in high demand world-wide. "Standards show the mistakes that have been made before and that have been overcome: misinvestments in systems that are not compatible down the line can be avoided by timely standardization," explains Raidl.
Christoph Badelt: Striking a fair balance as a basis for a good future
For WIFO's Director Christoph Badelt, a fair balance between economic, social and ecological concerns is an essential prerequisite for a viable future for society and economy. Those three dimensions have to be considered for all issues in order to achieve sound compromises on this basis.
Bearing in mind this objective, the standardization process seems to be a role model: "People with highly different interests and problems continuously make improvements until a good solution is found that also lasts for some time," states Badelt. And to make sure that even more stakeholders can participate in this process, it is a welcome development that Austrian Standards adds new digital platforms to the time-tested opportunities for the development of standards (cf. ISO and CEN).
Carl Baudenbacher: Co-regulation strengthens resilience of political institutions
There is absolutely no doubt that standards contribute much to achieving objectives in which policy-makers are highly interested, such as securing competitiveness and climate protection. In the New Approach, the European Commission has used standardization for decades in order to simplify the European legislative process and to ensure practicality when legal requirements are implemented in practice. In line with the principle of co-regulation, the legislator lays down what has to be achieved and defines essential requirements in directives and regulations, but leaves it up to voluntary standardization to develop specific solutions.
Efficient standardization can be used as an instrument of deregulation and raise the resilience of political institutions according to the Swiss legal expert Carl Baudenbacher: "Wherever voluntary standards provide for fair and accepted solutions in practice, there is no need for mandatory laws. A flexible system that is open to innovation is a safeguard against rigid rules. After all, standards can be adapted more swiftly than laws to changed framework conditions and new technical developments."
Helga Nowotny: Learning to make friends with risk
Today, the speed of change has dramatically increased due to digitization. In addition to all the familiar risks, new risks emerge which we do not know as yet. The renowned sociologist and science researcher Helga Nowotny studied uncertainty and, as a result, learned that you have to make friends with risk.
"Linear patterns of thought and behaviour are a thing of the past. We have to learn to be flexible, to make detours and to take risks. We need to strike a new balance between rules and openness," states the chair of the ERA Council Forum and member of the Austrian Council for Research and Technology Development.
Research and standardization are areas in which this is already accomplished with success. "Here, a balance has been struck: On the one hand, these fields are open for new developments, for challenging findings again and again and for changing them on the basis of better insights. On the other hand, as experts usually can quite quickly agree on the current state of the art, things are not arbitrary. What is essential is the openness of the process. In this way, a view gradually emerges that is accepted for the time being. Thus, you learn to deal with uncertainty without calling everything into question," Nowotny elaborates.