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Blog – What are standards and why do we need them?

Standards are essentially, documented agreements on a set way of doing things.

Standards are widely adopted and used in everyday life, often without even noticing it (which is when a standard is at its optimum). The fact you are reading this blog is made possible through multiple different standards, from the plug that supplies power to your device to the webpage you are viewing, this all works as a result of standards. So, standards help everyday things work.

Standards help cities innovate

Cities are complex interdependent systems and the increasing rate of urbanisation is driving the need for cities to look for innovative solutions in order to be sustainable, meet the needs of citizens and help drive economic growth. Cities across the globe are looking for ways to increase innovation and the reason is simple; innovation is needed to solve problems. To do this, cities need to know how to start and what to focus on. Standards such as PAS181 (which was published in July 2018 as ISO 37106) was developed to provide an overall framework for cities to base their transformation plans on. For example, it gives recommendations on the opening up of city data to create a flourishing information marketplace. PAS183 then gives a decision making framework for cities to identify how to share non-personal city data, which is supported by the City Data Sharing Toolkit.

Standards help build buyer trust in innovation

Standards are documents that provide rules and guidelines established by consensus. This is important for innovation as it helps build buyer trust, by ensuring a product or service meets a minimum level of quality so that it functions safely and securely. An example of this is Smart Locks, which are a whole range of consumer products now connected to the internet (as part of the Internet of Things). Smart Locks are designed to remove the need for a key, but as a result, introduced new cyber security vulnerabilities. The Door and Hardware Federation then developed the TS 621:2018 as a new emerging standard for safeguarding electronic door locks. Companies like Yale are using this to provide reassurance to consumers over the potential risks of someone hacking into their home.

Standards open up the market through interoperability of solutions

Standards can also help easily integrate new technologies into existing city services, so that solutions are interchangeable. By developing services using common building blocks based on interoperable standards, solutions can be more easily interchanged, reducing the risk of vendor lock-in, which can be a factor that deters investment into new smart city infrastructure. This situation inhibits the potential for growth and scale for new infrastructure and service developers, especially smaller organisations. This specific issue is the subject of Synchronicity and is also a key focus of the Government Digital Service Standard where point 9 gives guidance on using open standards and common platforms to avoid getting locked into contracts and to open up the market.

So, here are three reasons why cities need standards:

  • To provide frameworks for overall city transformation plans, which can in turn drive the market, e.g. through sharing data to create an information marketplace
  • To give buyer confidence in new innovations by ensuring they function, are safe and secure
  • To ensure new technologies can integrate into existing city services through using open standards and common platforms

By standards providing a sense of ‘what good looks like’, a higher level of consistency is provided, and order is achievable. More organisations will create innovative products and services, and cities and their citizens will benefit from these solutions created due to standards.

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