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Global Standards Symposium calls for cohesive innovation

By ITU News

The Global Standards Symposium brought industry leaders and policy makers together this week to discuss how international standards supporting digital transformation can accelerate progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the symposium was chaired by H.E. Nele Leosk, Ambassador-at-Large for Digital Affairs from Estonia. Her opening remarks highlighted the key role of digital technologies in building a freer, more prosperous, inclusive, sustainable, and peaceful world.

“We don’t need to re-invent the wheel to drive digital transformation,” Leosk said, highlighting the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation as a playbook to bring the international community together, drive digital transformation and close the digital divide.

Standards bodies in sync

The world’s leading developers of international standards – the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and ITU – shared insights on how the principles of standardization and the SDGs align.

The SDGs represent the global consensus on what needs to be done to improve everyone’s quality of life, said ISO Secretary General Sergio Mujica.

“We believe in a process that is inclusive, that is transparent; and mainly it is consensus-based,” he said.

“That’s the set of values we believe in and that is why we also believe that standards are so important for the implementation of the SDGs.”

Achieving the SDGs “will demand cohesive innovation and cohesive supporting standards,” concurred Chaesub Lee, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. “Achieving this cohesion grows more critical, and more challenging, by the day.”

IEC General Secretary and CEO Philippe Metzger noted how last year in Italy, “for the first time, the G20 leaders in their final communiqué acknowledged the importance – the relevance of international consensus‑based standards – for the digital economy, for the digital transformation.”

This “very important step” could not have been made by one standards body alone, he added. “We needed cooperation for that.”

Standardization begins by analysing emerging ICT use cases to clarify their technical requirements – the first step in a process to create standards that meet those requirements on a global scale.

“We start with vision, with use cases,” explained Lee.

“Most important for international standard development is how we can listen to the new requirements from those new digital use cases, especially from other industry sectors.”

Call for cohesion

Symposium sessions looked at how standardization could support digital transformation in areas spanning smart cities and communities, sustainability, health, road safety, and financial inclusion.

“In an interconnected world, we have to develop all of these initiatives in an interoperable manner,” said Ghana’s Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful. “Uncoordinated or deliberately skewed development of any kind can have dire consequences for all regions of the world and by extension humanity generally.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has harnessed digital transformation goals more closely to the SDGs and highlighted the need for cohesive innovation. “We’re mindful of the fact that we cannot go it alone and have to build systems that are capable of being linked to those to those developed by our neighbours,” said Owusu-Ekuful in her keynote address to the symposium.

Technology continues advancing faster than policy and regulation.

With 2030 fast approaching, Owusu-Ekuful called for a “standards development roadmap specifically for the SDGs… and timelines clearly set in response to anticipated growth of policy and technology.”

The symposium’s conclusions weresubmitted to ITU’s World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) – the governing conference for ITU’s standardization arm (ITU-T), currently underway in Geneva, Switzerland, and online.

Download the Global Standards Symposium conclusions.

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