The first-ever Global Standards Symposium concluded yesterday in Johannesburg, South Africa, with broad agreement on the need to take aggressive action to streamline standards work and end the duplication of efforts within the sector. The one-day symposium brought together government ministers, diplomats, senior executives from the private sector and lead officials from other standards bodies.
Opening the Symposium, ITU standards chief Malcolm Johnson noted that without global standards the ICT world would be a very different place. "Imagine a world with no Internet or no telephone calling from one side of the world to the other. Literally thousands of standards pin together this framework of technologies that keeps the world's businesses and consumers connected," Johnson said, adding that clarity and efficiency must be brought to bear as the standardization scenario gets more complex by the day. "We must ensure we all pull together and avoid duplication of effort and waste our increasingly limited resources. Even large organizations are having difficulty resourcing this effort, so how can small organizations, especially from developing countries, hope to play a role?"
Industry and standards leaders argued that the bewildering array of standards bodies is costly and inefficient. It is estimated that there are over 300 ICT standards bodies in existence today. GSS delegates agreed that keeping track of them was a difficult task. Better coordination at an international level is needed between industry and standards developing organizations (SDOs) to ensure that standardization needs are met quickly and efficiently. Steps are being planned to establish a direct line of communication between technology leaders and ITU's standardization arm. This would ensure that emerging needs are addressed in the most efficient manner and at the most appropriate place. "ITU has long championed this cause, and is committed to providing high-quality, demand-driven international standards, which are developed rapidly, in line with the principles of global connectivity, openness, affordability, reliability, interoperability and security," Johnson said.
ITU Secretary-General, Dr. Hamadoun Touré underlined the importance of standards in times of financial crisis. "Standards are a proven tool in terms of economic development," he said. "The World Trade Organization (WTO) trade report of 2005 underlines the important benefits that standards can deliver." He added that "standards may have a significant effect on limiting the undesirable outcomes of market failure. And, the work of ITU and other bodies in the development of global standards for ICTs and telecoms has helped the smoother, more economical introduction of new technologies."
Addressing Global Challenges
Participants at the Global Standards Symposium also addressed ICTs and climate change, increasing developing country participation in the standardization process, and accessibility to ICTs for persons with disabilities.
Delegates were called on to set an example by committing to specific programs to limit their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduce their carbon footprint and help ensure that the expansion of the global communications network is done in an environmentally friendly manner. The importance of the work of the ITU Focus Group on Climate Change was recognized; in particular the need for a standardized approach to measuring the impact of ICTs on the reduction of GHG emissions.
Malcolm Johnson noted that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had underlined ITU's role in addressing climate change. "From a standardization perspective, ITU has already produced a checklist for standards authors to ensure climate change is taken into account in the development of our standards," Johnson said. "Industry is faced with probably it's biggest ever challenge but also its biggest every opportunity in terms of corporate social responsibility. There is the challenge for the ICT industry to limit its own emissions, but also the opportunity to maximize its potential to help other sectors reduce their emissions. This could make for a tremendously good news story for the ICT industry."
In the arena of accessibility to ICTs for persons with disabilities ITU was encouraged to continue its efforts in producing standards that support the ICT needs of persons with disabilities. Work to develop an online toolkit that will serve as a global electronic repository of policies and strategies and as a platform for sharing experiences on best practices on ICT accessibility was announced.