Understanding the principles of standardisation

Standards can be defined as a system of reference containing the technical specifications related to products, services and organisations and they guarantee their qualities and usage capabilities. Their applications are voluntary, unless they are cited as a regulation or as a directive. These standards can vary from one country to another, particularly outside the European Union. This is the reason why the companies must adapt their products to foreign markets. These standards are sometimes considered by the companies as restrictions when they are actually a tool to access other markets.

The relevant standardisation bodies | The different types of standards | Regulations and standardisation | Standards to gain access into the markets| The certification | The most commonly known standards

The relevant standardisation bodies

At an international level: Iso

The International Organisation for Standardisation plays a very important role in the development of standardisation in the world. It aims to harmonize the standards in a global level. Elaborated in global consensus framework, the international standardisation contributes to the rationalisation of international trade.

The Iso is a global federation which was created in 1947. It has published more than 19,500 international standards recognized in a very large number of countries and in almost every technological and economic field (except for the electro-technical sector for which the standards are developed by the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) and the telecommunications sector which depends on the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). These standards establish high specifications to be applied to products, services and good practices in order to increase the efficiency of all the sectors of the economy.

The members of Iso are national standardizing organisations from more than 160 countries. Iso collaborates with the European Committee for Standardisation (Cen). This fact allows the companies to define standards which can be also applied to Europe and the rest of the world.

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The different types of standards

A standard allows defining a common language among the economic actors (producers, users and consumers); it also allows clarifying and harmonizing the practices and defines the level of quality, safety, compatibility, the environmental impact of the products, services and practices. These standards facilitate commercial trade, in a national level as well as international, and contribute to the improvement of the economic structure and make everyone’s daily life easier. A standard is a document of reference approved by a recognized institute of standardisation. It defines the characteristics and the voluntary regulations applied to activities. It is the consensus among the parties in charge of a market or an activity sector. There are standards for products, services and management systems such as the Iso 9001 for quality management or the Iso 14001 for environmental management.

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Regulations and standardisation

The terms regulation and standardisation should not be mixed up. The term regulation is established by public powers. It is the expression of a law, a statute or a rule. Its application is mandatory. The application of standards is voluntary, it represents the company’s engagement to satisfy the quality and safety levels which have been acknowledged and approved. Moreover, standards can help to support a regulation when they are quoted as reference documents and are recognized as a presumption of conformity.

The liberalisation of the economies favors the development of standardisation which is becoming more recognized in global trade. The international standardisation aims to insure fair competition practices and to establish common references that are recognized between one country and another. These standards are proven to be essential for the proper development of international trade.

In function of your choice of destination market, the response to standards will not be the same. If you aim to target only international markets, you have to pay attention to the existing international standards on this subject. Perhaps they are also the same European standards? If you are strictly targeting a European market, you are interested in knowing the regulation context of your performing field since it applies to you as well. The collection of European standards contributes to facilitate the circulation of products in Europe. There is not a framework of regulations at a global level, even if the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in agreement with the TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) both recommend the usage of international standards when they exist.

You cannot ignore the existence of the European regulations and the fact that these make reference to standards as a way of presumption of conformity to the essential requirements established by the directives. Mainly this is due to the fact that all the European standards are taken from their national collections. However, remaining always within the framework of the European regulations, the labeling CE must be affixed to all the products along with the notice from the directives marked as "New Approach". A product covered by the directive’s "New Approach" is in conformity to European standards and can circulate freely in all the countries of the European Union. However, within the framework of a particular contract, the exporter can be imposed to respect the standards of the country of destination.

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Standards to gain access into the markets

Do you want to export? Do you want to make a difference within the market? Being in conformity with standards will help you achieve your goals. If your products are in conformity with the standards, new markets will be available for you. Learning how to use the standards is a tool that facilitates the access into the markets instead of being a restriction. The usage of standards would differentiate your products or your services in the general market. Standardisation is a voluntary approach taken by the companies as a device to emerge with a referential in order to become different in a given market. The companies that have understood this approach, they participate with the standardisation programs to insure that the contents of standardisation are consistent with their expectations and their needs. Standardisation concerns all types of organisations, regardless of their size or their sectors of activity. A company can invest in the field of standardisation in order to anticipate future market demands, to valorize and to protect their practices, products or services. When a company participates directly into the development of standards, the company is giving itself a powerful boost to steer the market and to encourage the practices that the company judges to be the best. When the company applies the standards, it improves its performance, increases the confidence of its clients and expands its shares in the market.

The standard approach implies above all things, an identification of the different fields of requirements which concern the product and a search for technical standards which corresponds to the targeted markets. The national organisations publish catalogues of standards which can be consulted and they offer an initial approach to standardisation. After having searched the information, the second stage consists of seriously studying the texts and evaluating the project of standardisation. The product is then fabricated in function to the defined standard and technical modifications are taken so that the final product can be in conformity to these standards. Finally, the company submits its product to the control tests required by the organisations of the country of destination or to the laboratory authorized to deliver the certificate for the targeted country. The conformity to standards can also be a declaration made by the supplier under his own responsibility. He engages himself to insure the quality of his production, his services or his organisation. This approach can help the companies that want to export without having to go through the process of obtaining the certification. However, the supplier or the client can go a step further and obtain a certification. In order to accomplish this, the supplier can request the certification of this conformity from a third party (laboratory, an organisation of inspection, an organisation of certification…), which will be in charge of verifying that the product, the service or the system concerned meets the required standards.

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The certification

The certification is a complimentary tool to become different in a given market. It is an approach by which a third party organisation gives a written insurance concerning a product, a service or a process duly identified to be in conformity to specific requirements. The purpose of the certification is to provide confidence to the clients and to improve the image of a company, allowing it to set itself apart from its competitors:

There are two types of certifications

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The most commonly known standards

The standards most commonly known are those of the management systems: they are multi-sectoral such as Iso 14001, international standard of environmental management and Iso 9001, international standard of quality management; Iso 26000, for the social responsibility of the company; they can be sectoral such as Iso 22000, international standard system management for food safety, Iso 13485 a referential of quality concerning medical devices, Iso 17025, international referential concerning the accreditation of testing laboratories.

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