International standards key for developing NZ’s digital economy

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Our world is changing fast. Observers increasingly say we are on the edge of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will bring together digital, biological, and physical technologies in new and powerful combinations. 

The pace and degree of change are prompting people to speak out about the need to make sure that we balance the opportunities and risks wisely. This is where standards and standardisation have a key role to play.

The digital economy is a core part of this transformation, affecting many aspects of our society. This includes the way people interact, the economic landscape, the skills needed for jobs, and even political decision-making. This emerging economy has the potential to generate new scientific research and breakthroughs, fuel job opportunities, drive economic growth, and improve our lives.

Deloitte describes the digital economy as the activity that results from the billions of everyday online connections among people, businesses, devices, data, and processes. The backbone is hyperconnectivity – the growing interconnectedness of people, organisations, and machines that is facilitated by the internet, mobile technology and the internet of things (IoT).

In recognition of the increasing impact that digital transformation will have on our lives, the New Zealand government recently refreshed its Digital Government Strategy, a successor to the 2013 Government ICT Strategy. It aims to ‘set the direction and create the conditions to transform the way government operates in an increasingly complex and fast-changing digital world.’

Standards New Zealand has key role within digital strategy

Those with the responsibility for driving this strategy are the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), who are tasked with promoting innovation and helping the country front-foot the rapid pace of change. At the same time, they are to provide guidance and help prevent cybercriminals from exploiting the opportunities that new and emerging technologies can provide.

These technologies constantly challenge how businesses and consumers operate, and how new products and services are delivered. Standardisation establishes a common market, encouraging interoperability and reducing barriers to trade.

Sitting within MBIE is Standards New Zealand (SNZ), who develop and publish standards and standards-related publications – the majority of which are developed in partnership with Standards Australia. SNZ is also the New Zealand member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and supports the New Zealand National Committee, which is the member body of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). 

This ensures that NZ has a voice in the international standards community, which is mostly communicated by New Zealand technical experts and leaders through either participation (P) or observation (O) membership on international committees.

To stay across developments in the digital economy it is essential that ‘NZ Inc’ is represented on these committees; Standards New Zealand provides the gateway for interested organisations and individuals to participate in the development of internationally recognised standards.

Key future tech standards: AI, blockchain, IoT, agritech

Some of the hot topics related to the digital economy include AI, blockchain, IoT, and agritech. These are fast-moving technologies, and there is tension between those who want to move fast to gain first-mover advantage and others who are cautioning against unintended consequences from missing something important.

This is where standards have a vital role to play. They are developed by local and international experts to enable efficient ways of working while maintaining the safety of producers and end users of goods and services in the digital economy.

One example of this is the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) Subcommittee 42, which is tasked with developing international standards in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). It was established in 2017 and has published two international standards so far, with a further 10 currently under development.

Compliant NZ products and services better accepted

International standards in the area of AI – including algorithms and machine learning – will play an increasingly key role in our economy. Innovators rely on international standards to ensure compatibility and interoperability, so new technologies can be seamlessly adopted around the world.

This means for New Zealand that locally developed tech would find easier acceptance in international markets if it complies with relevant international standards.

Another subcommittee of ISO/IEC JTC1 - SC 41 - is responsible for developing international standards in the field of IoT and related technologies, including smart farming. This committee was also established in 2017 and has published 20 international standards to date, with a further 15 currently under development.

Frans Vreeswijk, IEC General Secretary & CEO, says, 'With the help of thousands of experts from many different organisations, the IEC provides the technical foundation to address some of humanity’s greatest challenges, including energy access, rapid urbanisation, climate mitigation and cybersecurity.'

New Zealand currently has observer (O) membership on SC 42 and currently isn’t currently involved with SC 41. In order to become actively involved in the development of international standards, we would need to move to participating (P) membership of both of these committees.

With New Zealand’s digital sector currently our third largest contributor to the economy, it’s a sector that Standards New Zealand is heavily focussed on. We are keen to explore how standards could play a bigger role and contribute to New Zealand’s overall economy through supporting trade and innovation.

With this in mind, we are keen to talk with key stakeholders in the sector to better understand needs and opportunities. And, if there is an international standard or area of interest you think New Zealand should be contributing to, or you’d like to know more please get in touch at

Published in business and ICT.