Meeting with new Minister

Standards Council Chair, John Lumsden, Standards New Zealand General Manager, Strategic Development and Governance, Rob Warner, and I were pleased to have the opportunity to meet with our new Associate Minister, Hon Craig Foss, in August 2011. It was a fruitful meeting and the Minister was very interested to hear about us and how we operate. At a dinner following the meeting, the Minister met members of the Standards Council.

Royal Commission on the Canterbury Earthquakes

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Building Failure Caused by the Canterbury Earthquakes was set up to examine issues around the built environment in the Christchurch central business district and to inquire into the adequacy of relevant building codes and standards into the future. The Commission called for public expressions of interest from those who had an interest in the six principal issues that arise under the Commission's terms of reference, and who wanted to make submissions.

The Standards Council lodged an expression of interest in July 2011 and will be making a submission to the Royal Commission. The submission will relate to three of the six principal issues – Issue 3: Inquiry into legal and best-practice requirements; Issue 4: Change of New Zealand design Standards/codes of practice over time; and Issue 6: Future measures. This will be a valuable opportunity to highlight to the Commission the important role of Standards and put forward the Council's views on how Standards can better support the New Zealand Building Code. The website for the Royal Commission is

Standards can raise GDP by up to 1% – new NZ study

A report I received last month shows that Standards positively impact on labour and capital productivity growth and can lift New Zealand's gross domestic product by up to 1%.

The Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL) report The Economic Benefits of Standards to New Zealand found that Standards are powerful economic levers; encourage innovation; improve market efficiency and prevent market failures; improve information to purchasers; and reduce transaction costs.

BERL focused its research on a group of Standards within the building and construction sector. Interviews were held with key stakeholders and industry representatives to explore what the economic benefits (and costs) of Standards are from the point of view of this sector. One of the case study Standards was NZS 3910:2003 Conditions of contract for building and civil engineering construction. This Standard encourages people to use the same methods, processes, and forms. The findings showed that the Standard created a level playing field and transparency in the industry, minimised unnecessary duplication, confusion, and inconsistencies, and decreased transaction costs.

Standards New Zealand and the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) commissioned the research with support from the Institution of Professional Engineers in New Zealand and the New Zealand Institute of Architects. The full report is available on our website.

World Standards Day 14 October 2011

World Standards Day 2011 poster

The theme for World Standards Day 2011 – 14 October – is 'International Standards – Creating confidence globally'. This year, for the first time, the World Standards Day poster was the result of a competition organised by the World Standards Cooperation*. The winner, Caterina Fiorani from Italy, is a young architect working in Rome. This is how she explains the inspiration for her poster:

'There are some gestures that have universal value: one of them is the open hand, which may indicate greeting, welcome, the reassurance of a peaceful attitude, a deep confidence in human skills.

Two open hands in contact suggest honesty, and the helpfulness of man towards other human beings, which makes it possible to cooperate for a common purpose. Moreover, two hands recall the concept of work, which is the principal tool through which man can achieve quality in his production, with the essential aid of international Standards, a necessary and powerful help to reach excellence.

The whole world is represented through dots, a standardised graphic sign, which symbolises the hope for equal dignity for human beings all around the globe. The use of colour emphasises local differences as an added value that must never be forgotten.'

The way Caterina has grasped the concept of international Standards and interwoven it with the World Standards Day theme is most impressive. We need Standards to achieve confidence in human skills and to attain excellence. Every day, people use systems, equipment, and services with the inherent expectation – and confidence – that everything will work, and will work instantly. We expect to click on Internet Explorer and be immediately connected to the world. We jump in our cars and are confident that the steering and braking systems will not fail us. We use our toasters and electric jugs and assume they are safe. Standards underpin this expectation and confidence.

*The World Standards Cooperation (WSC) was established in 2001 by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC (, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO ( and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU (, to strengthen and advance the voluntary consensus-based international Standards systems of IEC, ISO, and ITU. Standards New Zealand is the New Zealand member for two (ISO and IEC) of these three international Standards bodies.

Standards and interoperability

Standards also underpin interoperability, a relationship I touched on in last month's Touchstone. I notice that the World Trade Organisation Public Forum 2011 theme is 'Seeking answers to global trade challenges'. The Forum is due to meet in Geneva from 19 to 21 September 2011.

International Standards are one way of meeting trade challenges and allowing global interoperability. As the World Standards Cooperation (WSC) points out in a recent publication, without standardisation and interoperability there would be many more obstacles to global trade. WSC uses containerisation as an example:

World trade in a container

Containerisation is another triumph of global interoperability, brought about by Standards. Although attempts at standardising the dimensions of transportable containers date back to coal mining in the late 1700s, it was not until the global standardisation of cargo containers in the 20th century that true interoperability of land, sea, and air transport became possible. The breakthrough came when national container Standards were adapted and adopted as international Standards, hundreds of incompatible container systems became obsolete, and containers that could be shipped and handled virtually anywhere became the norm. Today, it is estimated that over 20 million interoperable containers are used to move about 90% of non-bulk cargo worldwide.

It is clear here that this system has led to greatly reduced transport costs and has given international trade a massive boost. What happens, though, when the goods reach their destination?

Made here, shipped there – but will it fit?

More and more system components are built in different places, then shipped and operated elsewhere. Take a generator set that must fit into a power station built 50 years ago, or an assembly line that must integrate into an industrial communication system. If they are not standardised, the chances are that sooner or later expensive trade-offs will have to be made.

Business, industry, and government must be certain that the systems they purchase will work and communicate safely with other systems already in place, including information and in- and out-data feeds. Everyone wants assurance that standardised components will be available from different vendors for the projected lifetime of the system to give choice and better prices without the vendor lock-in that stifles competition.

Surely one of the sectors that must be highly interoperable is the financial sector. With international travel so accessible to many and with the growth in e-commerce, there is continuing pressure on banks to improve interoperability.

Banking goes global through interoperability

With the dramatic growth in international financial traffic, bank customers expect their transactions to be fast, accurate, and secure. Electronic banking systems standardisation has made it all possible. Several standards have clicked into place to connect banks worldwide and make life so much simpler for customers.

A key tool is the International Bank Account Number (IBAN) standard published in 1997, allowing cross-border identification and validity checks of bank accounts, and rapid and secure payments. Then, to reach optimal interoperability, banks created the Bank Identifier Code (BIC), specifying a unique worldwide identifier for each bank.

Debbie Chin, Chief Executive
Standards New Zealand

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