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Reform of the Swedish Standards System

After years of segmentation, the Swedish Standards Institute has undergone a merger of its seven sectoral bodies. The result has been a 20 percent savings in operating costs.

SIS, the Swedish Standards Institute, is a well-known standards body with significant influence in Europe. Last year the organization underwent a major change when the previous seven sectoral standardization bodies merged into the new SIS. Prior to the merger, the seven sectoral bodies were BST (construction and building), HSS (health), IKH (lifts and cranes), SMS (mechanical engineering and materials), STG (a range of general subjects), TKS (pressure vessels) and SIS (an umbrella organization for the others).

Added to these institutes were two subsidiaries of SIS: SIS Förlag AB, Sweden’s largest technical publisher, which supplies standards, manuals and technical publications; and SIS Forum AB, which offers training and consultancy about standards and standardization as well as support to developing countries. Finally, as in many other countries, the electrical and electrotechnical fields (SEK), as well as telecommunications (ITS), had their own national structures.

Customer Orientation

Truth be told, the old structure, which can be found in many countries, operated rather well. However, in the last fiscal year of that organization, the pro forma accounts for 1999 showed a deficit of seven million SEK (Swedish krona). An institution, even a non-profit body, cannot stay in the red forever.

But that was not the only reason for the reorganization. The reasons were several. First of all, SIS’s stakeholders needed transparency and visibility. The stakeholders are primarily major companies. The entrepreneurial landscape looks rather like an hourglass: many large groups, fewer medium-sized companies and many small-to-medium sized enterprises. The second feature of the Swedish economy is that it is resolutely oriented towards international trade. The reason is the obvious limitations of the domestic market. This is clearly reflected in the standards policy: more than 95 percent of Swedish standards come from European and other international standards developers.

Lars Flink, managing director of SIS, says: “The standard system needed to be pulled together to ensure better visibility for all the stakeholders, and to offer global solutions.”

Saving Time and Promoting Standardization

The new structure of SIS came about after an analysis conducted with the help of a consultant. The restructuring was considered necessary by all of the organizations and players involved. The new organization went into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. One important requirement was to have a sustainable system, capable of providing the stakeholders with useful documents at shorter notice, while at the same time promoting standardization.

SIS now operates on a “tight ship” model. Seven of the previous organizations have merged to form a new SIS, which now is the national member body representative to ISO. The electrical and electrotechnical fields and telecommunications are still independent organizations. SEK is a member of CENELEC and IEC, and ITS is a member of ETSI (European equivalent to ITU). Within SIS, the two pre-existing subsidiaries remain; SIS Förlag and SIS Forum.

For standards development, there are three groups: Standardization groups 1 and 2 and the development area. In groups 1 and 2, we find the business and technical areas previously covered by the sectoral bodies. The development department, is a kind of incubator where new thoughts and ideas are developed and where requests for work on new or innovative subjects for standardization emerge. Here again, SIS is following the standardization trends that are appearing around the globe: turning military standards to civilian use, services for businesses and private individuals, corporate social responsibility, the world of education (language schools, etc.), and antipersonnel mines. These kinds of projects do not fit in any of the existing technical committees and require more time and resources than an ordinary standardization project. The basic criterion for deciding to engage in a new project is the interest from stakeholders who are willing to finance the work. Considering Sweden’s focus on export and the small domestic market, new standardization projects that SIS engages in are international.

The fiscal aspect of SIS’s work looks like this: 50 percent of revenue comes from the sale of our products: standards, books, training courses, services etc. The industry finances one third of the budget in connection with its participation in the work. Eight percent of the income comes from the government. The State also contributes indirectly, through specific requests for work or through the participation of experts from Swedish government agencies in the standards work that they feel a need to join. Those are the main components that make up the budget of SEK 200 million.

Positive Results

The new organization is now in operation and there have already been a number of positive results, which are both logical and expected. All personnel have been brought together, about 160 people, in the same place. There is a new conference centre where meetings and training can be held. SIS now has one common computer system and common promotional and standard production policies. Hardly surprising, these factors have generated 20 percent savings. Another result of the reform is that it is now much easier for all stakeholders, not only industry stakeholders, to get in touch with SIS. There is only one phone number to keep in mind and all SIS personnel are at one place. The interchange of ideas and experiences among sectors and stakeholders has also become easier. Even the purchase of standards and education or help from consultants have been facilitated by the new organization.

All pre-existing organizations agreed upon the new structure so the change took place without any negative social consequences and with the consent of all involved. Generally speaking, SIS has found that as soon as there is consensus and the assurance that the organization is efficient, there is no reason for change to fail.

When it comes to less tangible areas, for example strengthening the awareness of standardization within companies and throughout society, one has to wait a little. It is not quite so clear-cut and not so easy to measure in the short run.

Lars Flink expresses the change like this: “I am convinced that by improving the transparency of the organization we have strengthened the visibility of the Swedish system in relation to the international scene.”

An Active Role in the International Arena

SIS’s strategy at the international level has not changed particularly as a result of the reform, except that now there are better opportunities to pursue the strategy and to get the resources gathered. The strategy should be seen viewed in light of the Swedish economy’s orientation towards international trade.

SIS has to meet the demands of the stakeholders and to conduct activities that meet the needs of Swedish society. Playing an active role in the international arena is quite clearly one of SIS’s objectives. But if the stakeholders want SIS to take on secretariats, convene working groups and initiate new projects, they must finance them.

Good Practice Standards

Lars Flink's comments on the standards of tomorrow serve as a summation of SIS’s goals.

“I will not be saying anything new by recalling that, on the whole, anything that has to do with hardware in the economy is seeing its relative share decreasing to the benefit of services ... I am not placing industry in opposition to services, but merely noting the growing importance of needs resulting from matters of good practice. ‘How should I do it? How should I organize myself?’ What I call ‘good practice standards’ can only grow in importance.” //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

This article is partly based on an article previously published in the ISO Bulletin, April 2002, written by Jean-Claude Tourneur, Editor of Enjeux, the standardization magazine of AFNOR, France’s national standards body. The material is supplemented and edited by Lovisa Krebs at SIS Corporate Communications Department.

SIS is a non-profit organization and is a member of the European Commission for Standardization (CEN) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). SIS works in close cooperation with Swedish corporations, the government, consumer organizations and other stakeholders.