The joy of EU standards

One sign of becoming a proper grown-up is finding more and more things worse than being bored. Project Eye was recently chatting about a recent PROMS-G talk on the new PRINCE2 agile guidelines. The other party to the conversation, who had not been at the talk, confessed that they found the topic of standards ‘boring’.

Well, Project Eye knows exactly what they mean if the talk had been simply regurgitating the details of some manual. Although to be fair, even this might be like the instructions on how to inflate a life-raft: they suddenly become riveting when you actually need them. So let’s agree that now and again standards can be vital.

While we are on the topic of boredom, some astute Project Eye readers may have twigged we are going to have a referendum on the UK’s continuing EU membership. A key issue here is about - yes! - standards.

Central to the European Community is the principle of a shared market. The good news for you and me is that a large common market reduces prices through competition. The use of the internet by buyers to search such markets for the best deals has intensified further the development of competitive pricing.

But for this to work effectively for buyers, we need to know not only the price but also the fitness for purpose of a potential purchase. This could be something as basic as the ability to plug a TV into the power supply in your home or whether a DVD will have a format your player will recognise. This is where reliable standards come in.

This post is supposed to be about IT projects, so Project Eye will point out that the concern for standards extends to IT. For example, you could be installing a new hardware or software component that needs to be compatible with your existing systems. Suppliers of IT goods and services often exploit compatibility issues to lock in customers to their own range of interconnected wares.

Another example with IT projects is where your development requires the temporary services of particular specialist staff. You might have concerns about the breadth and quality of their capabilities. Looking for valid competence accreditation helps allay these concerns.

For these kinds of reasons, the EU takes a profound interest in standards. If you are a large-scale supplier with ambitions to expand your markets outside the confines of your home country, then attention to international standards will be worth some effort. If, on the other hand, you are a small trader whose customers tend to be local, you may consider a lack of product and service standards as a boon as it will discourage external interlopers in your patch. The cost of making your products compatible with EU standards could increase your prices, while you have no interest in selling your products in far-flung corners of Eastern Europe, so you will decry EU product standards as ‘red tape’.

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that leaving the EU should be the first step towards a North Korean model of economic isolation. We cannot rely on purely local sales of products and services to finance our quality of living. So whatever happens, the issue of international standards will not go away.

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