Key Stakeholders of TIC industry

Almost everyone touches this all-pervasive industry. If you are reading this, the TIC industry connects with you in more than one way already. The image portrayed here is very generic and lays out key stakeholders as known when writing this. In case you feel some aspect of the industry is missing, feel free to write back.

Standard Development Organisations (SDOs)

These range from entities like British Standards Institute or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), whose standards are much in use due to history and geography combined. Or the likes of IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) whose origins seem more inclusive and less country centric. There are also industry associations like Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) or American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) who have a stronger clout worldwide as compared with smaller ones from associations in a specific region or country. Example: UK’s Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) that publishes Technical Guidance Documents (TDGs) which come across as standards.

SDO’s often create documents which create boundaries and definitions of products and services which are ‘measurable’. The intent is to bring about ‘repeatability’. Traditionally the drivers of creating such documents (Standards) are to bring about uniformity, repeatability and what could be perceived as ‘quality’. Sometimes professionals who are contributing to defining and creating such standards are employed in commercial entities; which leads to instances that ‘could’ come across as undertones of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Understandably this is very touchy subject and no SDO can come across as creating TBTs.

Note on Standards: For someone new to TIC, a very obvious question is what are #Standards? Simply put these are documents that are aiming to create uniformity. Due to spread of intent of such documents; these could be grouped into roughly three types (though many entities have come up with many groupings). These three are probably inspired by what is published across many websites.

“Guides” are published to give less prescriptive advice which reflects the current thinking and practice amongst experts in a particular subject. Example: ISO/IEC 17024: Bodies operating certification of persons is a guide.

“Codes of practice” recommend sound good practice as currently undertaken by competent and conscientious practitioners. Example: AS/NZS 5848: Code of practice for bungy jumping.

“Methods” are highly prescriptive, setting out an agreed way of measuring, testing or specifying what is reliably repeatable in different circumstances and places. Example: TM16.1 which is Test Method for Color-fastness to Light: Outdoor.

Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs)

As the general intent of standards is to create ‘repeatability’, there is a need for a robust mechanism of ‘measurement’. Assessment of ‘repeatability’ has been moving from subjective to objective and more organisations are involved in assessment and not individuals. (This is of course a bit contentious and debatable).

Any entity (or a person) involved in assessing the compliance or conformity of a product or a service or processes to a standard is called a Conformity Assessment Body or a CAB.

Anyone thinking one step ahead of this are bound to ask questions like, “Who empowers CABs”; “Who is assessing CABs”, etc. And there is a complete framework that exists to answer not only these two questions, but scores of other doubts that come to people’s minds. Assessing for compliance automatically poses the question of compliance and non-compliance which can come across as pass or fail and even right/wrong. While standards aim to make ‘constructs’ of the TIC Industry as black and white as possible, there is always grey. And there is a completely related discussion and debate on ‘Morals & Ethics’.

So, ISO’S Committee On Conformity Assessment (CASCO) and its equivalents are very evolved and address most of fundamental questions above well. And these continue to evolve.

Labs or Laboratories

Often associated with ‘testing’; Labs go beyond just testing to address the realm of assessment. In the context of the TIC industry, labs can abide by the frame-works established by CASCO or their equivalents to publish (test) ‘reports’ detailing compliance or non-compliance to a published standard or simply results of measuring specific variables. If you have read the note on standards, you will realise that as ‘methods’ are highly prescriptive; the results published by labs as often as objective as can be (as compared with other aspects of measurements and assessments).

Every ‘thing’ that you can see around you: furniture, electronics, food, cosmetics, textiles, building products/ materials, machines, medical products etc. all can be tested and evaluated in labs for several defined parameters. There also exist robust mechanisms (that continue to evolve) to check the labs themselves too!

Inspection Bodies (IBs)

While labs assess products which could be assembly line manufactured or produced (custom made); inspection looks at workmanship or actions of individuals which add value or create something. Wherever workmanship creates a very high value or lack of good workmanship creates a high risk; the need for inspections arises. When such inspections are controlled by authorities or have a value attached, the authorised inspection body comes under scrutiny as well. Using frame-works established by CASCO or their equivalents; IBs have to create and maintain operating procedures.

Note on Inspection Bodies: Though automations and AI are the flavour of the decade (2020-2030); inspections are often entrusted on inspectors, their skill, qualifications, experience (and even morals & ethics). Certain CABs run personnel certification programs as well. There is a close inter-connection here with assessments (exams) and certification of personnel.

Accreditation Bodies (ABs)

This is one layer above CABs, Labs and IBs in a certain way. Traditionally governments of nations were entrusted with all matter considered critical to assuring health and safety among other functions where morals and ethics were paramount. So, the function of the checker of checkers was entrusted with entities under direct control of governments. In essence that is what ABs are: they are checkers of entities which check: Labs, CABs and IBs.

Most of the countries in the world continue to have government-controlled Accreditation Bodies. In some cases, like in USA, there are several ABs and they are not in total control of the governments. In United Kingdom: United Kingdom Accreditation Service is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Though it is independent of Government there are some linkages with the government. It is not always true that ABs are not for profit; because the concept of profit needs to be understood with context. In countries where more than one AB operate, there is a creation of a National Accreditation Body. This is also because there are Mutually Recognition Arrangement or MRAs.

As a precursor to understanding MRAs; we need to imagine the supply chain of assurance once more.

Product or Service creators are checked by Labs & IBs and assured by CABs. ABs check LABs, IBs & CABs. Who checks ABs? Here is a bit of grey as ABs are often backed by someone like a government or some other instrument of trust. But when countries are trading between each other quantifying ‘trust’ is not easy. Establishing these trusts call for agreements which lay out rules and processes. Examples are ILAC and APAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement: International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and Asia Pacific MRAs are agreements. One of the primary roles of APAC is to extend the APAC Mutual Recognition Arrangement (MRA) and harmonise accreditation practices in the region. In 2022, 54 of the 65 members of APAC are MRA signatories and are APAC Full Members. These agreements act as instruments of trust.

Product Manufacturers (Including Service as a product) or sellers (and buyers)

This is easy, is it not? Anyone or/and an entity creating a product that has a function and hence a value is considered a Product Manufacturer. For a good percentage of them, it is critical that the value & quality of their products remain high and quantifiable. It is common for representative of PMs to contribute to “Standardisation”. Often these representatives are closest to changes, advancements as well as future disruptions to the supply chain of the products they create. Hence, they are a key stakeholder, user as well as contributor to the TIC industry.

Customers or Buyers

Unknown to everyone, this is the biggest user of the services of the TIC industry. End users as well as businesses are always buying. Every buy decision is a payment made against a promise of product’s (or a service’s) future performance. Almost all the time there is an assurer involved and scores of standards. All those logos, marks, numbers that you see are giving information about these are assurances. Awareness and correct understanding of the landscape of the TIC industry is critical for ALL the buy decisions.

Authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs)

This term again covers a very wide range of entities and often grouping together bodies that have a legal backing. An AHJ could be a regional municipal body or an entity entrusted with large public infrastructure (Ports / Energy, etc.). These are entities often considered as ones who are empowered to create technical regulations. As an example, an authority of a country could publish a requirement that a given product needs to comply with a given standard to be sold or imported in a given country. Or the airport authority of a country / region could define the preparedness or training level of every security professional which needs to be assessed using a personnel certification program that is created and run using ISO17020. There is a long list of such examples.