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What is standardization?

Standardization is the process of developing, promoting and possibly mandating standards-based and compatible technologies and processes within an industry. Technology standards focus on ensuring quality, consistency, compatibility, interoperability and safety.

Standardization involves the normalization of previously customized or disparate approaches to processes and technology. It provides rules, processes, guidance, templates, statistics and other data to establish and enforce consistent quality and conformity in how specific activities should occur within an environment. Standards are used with nearly all technologies. They ensure all players in an industry build products and services, and perform activities consistently and in compliance with specific rules and guidelines.

What are standards used for?

Standards in business are essential in areas like financial statements, business processes, new technologies and product quality. An important example of standardization in business is the use of generally accepted accounting principles as defined by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

In technology, a lack of standardization can result in the proliferation of incompatible proprietary formats; this causes problems, particularly for technologies that must interoperate. Incompatible formats, interfaces and protocols leave potential users confused, and hinder the adoption and advancement of a technology and industry.

The internet of things (IoT) is a good example of this issue: The main purpose of the IoT is enabling almost any object imaginable to be able to connect and transmit data over the internet. That scenario is increasingly being realized, but incompatible formats and market fragmentation have slowed adoption.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are other areas of technology where standardization will be important in the future.

Examples of technology standards organizations

Standards organizations promote standardization and endorse official standards -- also known as de jure standards -- for applications and system interfaces. Some important technology standards organizations include the following:

  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI) supports the development of U.S. technology standards. ANSI coordinates and oversees the work of various industry groups.
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) promotes the development of standards for electrotechnology and related sciences. IEEE standards often become national and international standards.
  • International Telecommunication Union develops standards for connecting networks and telecommunications standards.
  • Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an open standards organization that the Internet Society's Internet Architecture Board oversees. The IETF defines internet operating protocols.
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) promotes technological innovations. NIST's work enhances security in engineering, information technology, nanoscale science, neutron research, material measurement and physical measurement.
  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) develops, issues, updates and withdraws hundreds of standards each year. ISO standards are used in all aspects of technology. They provide foundations for important initiatives in a range of areas, including security, risk management, incident management, business continuity and resilience.

Most countries have their own standards bodies. The European Union (EU) issues important standards and regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR is a data privacy and security regulation entity that collects or processes personal data from any person in the EU. The British Standards Institution issues standards in areas of technology and governance.

Many industries have their own standards bodies. Some examples include the following:

  • ASIS International develops security standards.
  • The FASB and the International Accounting Standards Board set standards for the accounting industry.
  • The Joint Commission is an independent, not-for-profit standards-setting and accrediting organization for the healthcare industry.
  • The American Bar Association sets professional conduct standards for attorneys.
  • The Association for Supply Chain Management provides open source standards and tools for supply chain management.

Benefits of standardization

Standardization ensures business processes and technologies are consistent and repeatable. A lack of standardization can slow the growth of a technology or industry because potential customers hesitate to commit to competing approaches and formats.

Process and product standards are important from a governance, risk management and compliance perspective. Adherence to standards facilitates governance and reduces risks by minimizing the chance that devices won't work together. It also provides the basis for compliance, an increasingly important audit issue.

Data governance within an organization relies on an internal standardization process. Learn more about how data governance standards work.

This was last updated in May 2023

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