ICT4SDG | Standards
May 14, 2019

Why standards are important for sustainable development: Doreen Bogdan-Martin

By ITU News

ITU’s 50th World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is this Friday and this year’s theme is “Bridging the Standardization Gap.” Ahead of WTISD, ITU News recently caught up with Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT), to get her take on the importance of standards for sustainable development.

In what ways do you see ITU standards facilitating the important work the Telecommunication Development Bureau is doing to promote connectivity and advance sustainable development?

ITU standards are key to ensuring that information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure and networks are secure, stable, reliable, interoperable, safe for human health and energy efficient, and that they operate without interference.

Standards play a key role in facilitating the important work of the Telecommunication Development Bureau. Indeed, our goal of universal connectivity and delivering on the promise of technology to promote better education, healthcare, agriculture, and more cannot be realized without ITU standards.

ITU standards offer a common basis for growth and innovation. By helping new technologies flourish, they also help to improve lives and accelerate progress towards the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Most of the technologies we use today are ultimately based on ITU standards. These standards enable the interconnection and interoperability of the huge array of different devices and gadgets we now have in our hands, our homes, our cars, our workplaces – as well as the heavy-duty mobile, cable and satellite networks that carry all that communications traffic.

ITU standards are also key to the deployment of emerging technologies such as 5G, which promises to deliver improved end-user experience by offering new applications and services through gigabit speeds, and significantly improved performance and reliability.

Collaboration and partnerships with different stakeholders from the public and private sectors and from academia – from both developing and developed countries – is central to ensuring that ITU’s standardization process is globally inclusive.

The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to propel societies into a new age of smart cities and ubiquitously connected devices. These new technologies provide an opportunity for operators and other ICT industry players to move beyond providing connectivity services towards developing rich solutions and services for consumers and industry across a range of sectors. Globally-agreed standards will enable us turn the fast-moving digital revolution into digital-led development, and bring the benefits of connectivity to people and communities everywhere.

What role can public-private collaboration and partnerships cutting across industry and sectors play in bridging the Standardization Gap?

Today, more than 50 per cent of the world is using the internet.

The challenge and the opportunity that lies before us now is how to connect the remaining half of the world’s people. Getting the rest of the world online is going to need new approaches, new models. We need to change the way we do business. We have to think differently; think creatively; and be more innovative if we are going to really make an impact.

Connecting the first half of the global population was largely about competition; the remaining half will be all about collaboration. Not just private-private collaboration, but public-private collaboration cutting across industries and sectors.

The opportunities for partnerships are many. But the imperative is clear: if we do not connect the other half, it simply will not be possible for us to achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

How can ITU standards help foster innovation to ensure inclusive digital transformation?

Innovation is now one of the Outputs of the ITU Development Sector (ITU-D). One of our main objectives are to strengthen the capacity of ITU-D members to integrate ICT innovation into national development agendas, and to promote a culture of innovation at the local level. How are we doing this? By developing strategies that promote innovation initiatives, including through public, private and public-private partnerships.

For example, earlier this year our Digital Inclusion division was part of an ITU-WHO collaboration that produced a new international standard on safe listening devices and systems, which aims to prevent hearing loss due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud sounds on personal audio devices.

Collaboration and partnerships with different stakeholders from the public and private sectors and from academia – from both developing and developed countries – is central to ensuring that ITU’s standardization process is globally inclusive.

There’s no doubt that digital innovation is the driving force behind today’s global digital revolution, and ITU’s global standards form the foundation for that innovation. Startups, entrepreneurs, and small and medium businesses can scale their solutions faster if those solutions are based on transparent, globally-agreed standards.

What is the role of the ITU Academy in supporting ITU Member States and other stakeholders to bridge the Standardization Gap?

As Director of the BDT, the issue of digital inclusion is a particular concern. We must ensure that our efforts to develop extraordinary new AI-enabled applications do not inadvertently contribute to widening the digital divide. The benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) must be distributed equitably, and should particularly benefit those most in need.

Building human and institutional capacity is at the centre of our support to our membership.

Since I assumed the role of Director of the BDT in January, I have made this area a top priority, so that people everywhere can be empowered to acquire the necessary skills they need to participate and flourish in the digital economy. This includes the ability of countries to understand and integrate ITU standards in their ICT sectors and national ICT development strategies.

To contribute to reducing disparities in the ability of developing ​​countries to access, implement and influence ITU’s international standards, the ITU Academy offers a variety of courses through its network of Centres of Excellence and other delivery partners.

To give just a few examples: our course on Conformity and Interoperability focuses on learning about the importance of conformity and interoperability of new technologies to relevant technical standards; Working Methods of ITU-T Study Groups is a self-paced online course that teaches the processes ITU follows to develop globally-agreed standards; and Audio-based navigation for persons with vision impairment helps students learn how to design audio navigation instructions for persons with visual impairments, in line with the ITU standard. There are also training courses on how to achieve compliance for a selection of ITU standards.

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Why standards are important for sustainable development: Doreen Bogdan-Martin

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