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Smart standards – connecting technology with content

Standards are evolving from documents that only humans can read. They are evolving so that their requirements and specifications can be understood by software and systems. What does that mean exactly?

Laptop with two digital screens in the background.

A software engineer at work

For anyone who at has been involved in international standards development recently, you will be aware of ISO’s Online Standards Development (OSD). The standard doesn’t look like code to those who interact with it via the OSD platform. The online word processing interface feels a lot like Microsoft Word.

Those making comments during consultation have a straightforward experience, as do the committee digesting the neatly grouped comments afterwards. But at all times the XML file of the standard sits behind these interfaces. Version control is built in, and as the standard develops and is then finalised, the XML becomes the source of truth. It can generate the PDF documents we are used to reading, or the browser-based editions on ISO’s Online Browsing Platform, but each standard also exists as annotated data that systems can use in other ways. That is, the content is machine readable.

Evolution of standards. Paper - Standards available in paper. No machine interactions available. PDF - Open digital format. Read and search on screen. XML - Machine readable document. Structured content of standard documents. Content can be processed by software. Machine readable content - Semantic enrichment of content for selective access. Receive content of multiple standards for a given purpose. Machine interpretable content - Self learning analysis and validation cycles. Information modelling that expresses content and relation between elements. Individually - Standards as a service. Provides dynamic deliverables that can adapt to user needs. Future extensions

The range of formats used for standards. Copyright ISO.

Machine interpretable content

These are not yet ‘smart standards’. As this process is enhanced further, and other coding languages are developed to transform or enhance the XML, the requirements themselves can be encoded. The meaning of the standard can become code. This is what is meant by machine interpretable standards.

The classic example is a piece of software that can assess a digital model of a building plan and check it against building and construction standards for compliance. We are not there yet, but international standards organisations and a number of national standards bodies are working towards this goal. The future is unwritten, and the increased availability of AI will likely have a role to play.

Standards New Zealand is watching these developments closely. For more on this subject, there is an excellent summary available from ISO (International Organization for Standardization).

Are you making a digital tool that incorporates standards?

If you are interested in developing a digital tool to meet a specific need, which relies on standards content, we are keen to hear from you. We can provide no funding but can license content under commercial terms – what we call digital products licensing. Email our Copyright team.