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Interview
Interview with Torsten Bahke
Director, Deutsches Institut für Normung

Torsten Bahke, Dr.-Ing., is director of Germany’s Institute for Standardization, Deutsches Institut für Normung. Prior to taking this position in March 1999, Bahke had served as DIN’s director of strategy from 1997. Bahke received his doctorate in engineering from Hanover University in 1978. He began his professional career in 1979 working in the R&D Department at Krupp Industrietechnik, GmbH, in Duisburg. He continued working for Krupp and one of its subsidiaries until 1997. During his time there, his positions included assistant managing director, Krupp South Africa (Pty.) Ltd., Johannesburg (1984-1987); head of projects for bulk material systems, Krupp, Duisburg (1987-1988); head of the executive board of directors, PHW Anlagen und Systeme GmbH, St. Ingbert (Subsidiary of Krupp Fördertechnik GmbH) (1989-1994); and member of the executive board of directors, Krupp Fördertechnik GmbH, Essen (1994-1997).

In addition to his work with DIN, Bahke is a member of the Berlin Scientific Society; the board of trustees of the Berlin-Brandenburg Section of the Association of German Engineers; the board of trustees of the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM), Berlin; the board of the Institute for Management and Technology (IMT), Berlin. He is vice president of policy for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Geneva, Switzerland.

Following decades of standards experience as a member of industry, has moving to the development side of standards changed your views regarding standardization?

Indeed, I was in industry for 20 years, working in the field of mining and heavy equipment. The company I was employed with, Krupp, was very much engaged in international business. I was responsible for the technical aspects of projects — R&D, design, and fabrication. In our weekly meetings, we analyzed all the required documentation that came in from our foreign customers. First, we would analyze what standards were referred to in the documents; from there, we determined whether a project was worth undertaking based on whether or not we could use our existing standard technology to complete the project. At the same time, as markets were beginning to globalize, it was a permanent task of my engineering team to adapt our company standards to international standards so that we better complied with those requirements.

That was my education in standards in the industrial sector. But I have learned in far more detailed ways in my work with DIN that wherever an industry is not playing an active role in standardization, they may well suffer from that decision in the marketplace further down the road. I have come to know of occasions where companies have left the standards development to others, only to discover that some technological change had come about in Asia or somewhere else in the world, and suddenly they were at a disadvantage when trying to access markets.

Let me give you just one figure as an example of cost efficiency: To convert one technology from one standards base to another, it costs five to seven percent of the whole contract value. This is five to seven percent spent without any added value. Actually, this figure is very well-known in German industry and is the reason why it so enthusiastically contributes to standardization. They cannot afford otherwise.

On that subject, how does DIN attract German industry’s interest and involvement in the standards process? How do you keep executives involved?

The involvement of German industry is actually explained by history to a certain extent. DIN was founded as a private organization in 1917 by industry itself. Obviously in those days, industry was fully aware of the positive force that standardization could be.

We are very fortunate to have top industry leaders on our board. They are in close touch with our daily work and they instruct their enterprises to take an active role in standards developing committees. German industry has a very clear understanding that it is not serving DIN — it serves itself. DIN is a focal point, a service provider that has the infrastructure necessary to organize a critical process that creates consensus, recognizes, and works with minorities like small- to medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] and consumers, and which incorporates the latest state-of-the-art technology in standards development.

However, it is true that it costs a lot of money to develop standards, and so today we at DIN still have to motivate our industry leaders to remember that standardization is a good investment. To maintain interest in the standards development process, you must show industry: here are your costs, and here are your savings. Without numbers, it’s more difficult to get industry to the table. And this is not just a method to encourage participation. We, of course, are not developing standards just for fun. Every standard initiative must be a positive contribution, whether strictly financial, or for public health or safety, the environment, or however you measure it.

The establishment of the DIN Prize, a monetary award that honors those standards that most benefit industry, has been quite useful in maintaining awareness of the economic benefits of standardization. The most recent winner of the prize, in 2002, submitted by Dr. Walter von Pattay of Siemens AG, described a new ISO/IEC [International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission] standard dealing with generic IT [information technology] cabling systems for office buildings. With this new standard, there was a cost saving of some 80,000 euros per office building.

Revenue sources for standards organizations vary from dues-based models such as ISO’s, to sales-based models such as ASTM’s. What is DIN’s business model based on?

Let me begin by stating what we think a cost-recovery model should look like. Standardization is not a business unto itself. It is a service for stakeholders, and it is very clear that the costs of standards development have to be covered on a not-for-profit basis. The DIN stakeholders decided that this organization has to use a financial philosophy that keeps it independent. Twenty percent of DIN’s budget comes from our stakeholders’ contributions. Essentially, whenever a technical expert takes an active role in the committee, the expert has to pay for that. This, by the way, is the first proof of whether a given project is of interest or not.

Some 10 percent of DIN’s budget comes from governmental authorities, but not as a subsidy. Government pays DIN for the same reason the stakeholders do: the government has an interest in our work, and they are responsible for the basic requirements that are drafted in laws concerning the environment, health and safety.

Between 65 and 70 percent of our total income is acquired through selling standards and related publications and services. This is also proof that the standards being developed have market relevance.

This year, the DIN group will set up a standardization information bureau in Washington, D.C. What is the objective of this office?

We held an interesting conference earlier this year in Washington. This was organized by the Draeger Foundation and DIN, together with German industry and government representatives. The idea was to identify technical barriers that hinder U.S. and German trade, and to discover how we can eliminate these barriers where they exist. Emerging from the various discussions was the major need U.S. companies have to understand DIN standards better, how they are used in Germany and in Europe, and even how to access them.

So we decided to install an information point in Washington — a place where anyone who is interested in German standards can access them, can do some research, can even have a look into the content of the standards, and can ask questions that will be answered from Berlin. It’s a service we hope will better facilitate trade between the United States and Germany, and maybe even between the United States and Europe as a whole.

In an interview published in connection with this Washington, D.C., conference, you mention that U.S. standards bodies are primarily focused on their own commercial interests. Could you explain this point further?

On one hand, it is obvious that each standards developing organization has to finance itself, more or less . As I said, 65 to 70 percent of DIN’s budget is generated by the sale of our standards. This is good; this keeps our organizations independent, which is of utmost importance in ethically fulfilling our responsibility to be a neutral and fair ground for the development of standards.

I also mentioned, on the other hand, that standardization should not be a business in itself. And, I have to admit, there is a certain conflict here.

A main focus in Europe has been the unified European market and making harmonized standards available to the European community. The ultimate outcome of this for DIN has been the withdrawal, in many cases, of our own DIN standards in favor of the standards of ISO/IEC and CEN/CENELEC [European Committee for Standardization/European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization]. This was not necessarily positive for the DIN budget; suddenly, we were confronted with the fact that we were going to share the whole set of standards. But while it was not a positive financial model for DIN as an organization, it was the optimum model for industry, for the stakeholders. They could get their ideas into international standards and then have them also internationally recognized by their customers. It gave them better market access.

It may come as a surprise, but the United States is the single most active country in ISO. I understand that in ISO there are some 64 U.S. SDOs [standards developing organizations] administering 116 ISO committees. That proves that the ISO system adequately represents US interests. But these ISO/IEC standards are not later introduced as U.S. national standards. So, U.S. SDOs run their own standards in parallel, and these may also conflict with ISO and IEC standards. From there, one might develop the impression that this is done to maintain sales revenue.

I think if there is no contradiction between sales of standards and industry needs, then it’s fine, but if the private financial interests of an organization such as DIN is counter to industry needs, then I think there might be a problem there. U.S. industry may be well advised to make a higher financial contribution to U.S. SDOs so that they are able to do the work. I know that for the time being the U.S. SDOs are forced to act as they do.
I don’t want to say that one system is superior to the other. For one thing, we have very different circumstances. The United States has a very large home-market; in Germany, we depend on exports. But more and more, we have to develop the global market. We have to look forward and acknowledge that we have different systems, different circumstances, and ask: How can we find a way to serve the global market, to serve industry, to serve the stakeholders so that they have the benefit of lower costs and fair trade and to serve also the environment and public safety and so on? I think this is the obligation and also the responsibility of organizations like DIN, ASTM, and ISO/IEC. We should not enter into a competition among ourselves. I think that is not a favor to our stakeholders.

You use the terminology, “a harmonized set of standards.” Would those necessarily have to be developed within an ISO system? Are harmonized standards a synonym for ISO standards?

Yes, because ISO/IEC has 147 members from all regions of the world active in its standards development. Note that organizations like ISO and IEC can only work globally in those areas where regulations are internationally harmonized. Where there are different laws, we then have to maintain different regional standards to serve different legal requirements. So one of my messages is to urge governments to arrive at a harmonized, global set of regulations.

There are groups in specific industries, such as the marine industry and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, that are trying to find a global framework of regulation. So we are taking the first steps.

You also, in the abovementioned interview, refer to a “double-pronged strategy” applied by the United States with regard to recognition and influence of standards. Do you see any value in a sector-specific approach for individual industries?

Definitely different sectors have different requirements. The IT industry, for example, has different requirements where standards development mechanisms are concerned compared to the more conservative construction industry, for example. IT needs technical rules quickly, sometimes within months.

However, we have also to organize the horizontal information and the horizontal standards development work. Today, IT is involved in all sectors — the automotive and aircraft industries, even the construction industry. And there is a horizontal interconnectedness to the various materials with which ASTM deals. These very materials are applied in the automotive, aircraft, and heavy equipment industries and so forth. So, it is worthwhile to develop standards and criteria not only for one sector, but for all.

And this, by the way, is a structure we have here in DIN. We have many, many sectors and some 80 different technical committees dealing with various industries. DIN ensures that all of this is coordinated, that all activities are consistent, so that there will not be conflicts between standards. Wherever standardization work is driven only by associations, it is very difficult to find a way to coordinate this work with other associations. This is indeed a problem.

The United States is an important trading partner, as you point out in the interview, and you go on to say that “it is particularly important to involve U.S. standards interests in ISO and IEC. However, the conditions must be right.” Can you elaborate on what these conditions would be?

We have recognized that the United States uses a different model for its standards development than the rest of the world. To find a way to better integrate and harmonize standards, we cannot turn the wheel backwards. We have to look forward. One major criteria in working with the U.S. system of standardization is to find an international consensus. I think it is of utmost importance that all regions get a fair chance to contribute not only through multinational companies, but also through SMEs, consumers, and all stakeholders.

The second important criteria is, once such a standard has been developed and it is then available for the marketplace, this standard has to be used, has to be introduced, as a national standard, and all other conflicting standards have to be withdrawn. These two main requirements have to be maintained. In DIN, wherever there is an international standard, we apply it here in Germany, and we withdraw German standards. This is not DIN’s idea; it is a requirement of the market. Basically, it is a requirement of the WTO rules, to facilitate the best way toward global trade.

As vice president of policy at ISO, what top challenges do you see facing that organization in the next few years?

First, we must find a way to better coordinate standards development between IT, telecommunications, and the so-called “old economy” sectors. Standards organizations have to evolve so they accommodate emerging technologies.

Secondly, we have to develop standards much faster than we did in the past. Two or three years is a goal we aim for. We have to provide adequate IT infrastructure for more rapid development, and we are now quite busy with exploring the idea of the electronic committee, wherein stakeholders can work worldwide within an electronic network. This is of utmost importance and is also connected with our third challenge.

This third challenge is to help developing countries become more active in standardization activities. Today, they are mainly standards users, but we want to see them play an active part in the development of ISO and IEC standards. Without this we are not serving the global market.

And of course, one of our challenges is to further the goal of creating one set of harmonized international standards.

Will a growing Europe, with more and more countries joining the EU, have any effect on standardization in Germany?

Since Germany, as part of the European Community, and DIN are actively engaged in Europe’s standards developing organizations, this will not have any influence. The growth of Europe will certainly serve the internal European market and will further tear down barriers to trade. Again, remember that DIN is no longer nationally oriented. We have put our energies toward the European and international level. From this perspective, it is helpful that other countries are joining the group. This serves our own stakeholders.

Could the perception of European influence in ISO grow as the EU increases its member nations?

I would first like to comment on the influence of European standardization in ISO and IEC and put it in a different perspective. European industry makes its technical know-how available at the international level to ISO and IEC. So it’s not influence, it’s actually a contribution to the worldwide community. It would not be positive, it would create barriers to trade, if Europe and European industry were to put their technology in competition with the global preference.

European industry accepts that it has to find a compromise with Japan, China, the United States, with all regions, and then they accept the results and get in line with the European standards, i.e., in accordance with the Vienna and Dresden Agreements.

Coming back to the question, having more European members being active in Europe and in ISO and IEC — this is not a threat. This is positive. Statistically speaking, there is no evidence of regional bloc voting.

From where do you think the perception of bloc voting might have come?

I have seen maybe one or two cases out of a thousand, and obviously the United States was concerned about those and was perhaps under the wrong impression that there is a general bloc in Europe that unfairly allies against other nations. I think this is just not true. We have proven this within our ISO statistics. Less than 0.5 percent of all votes taken are without consensus. If you look at voting patterns in detail, the Europeans do not speak with the same voice. I see this nearly every day, that the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and others vote totally differently from German industry. Again, it would be very, very negative — Europe would step backwards — if they were to engage in bloc voting.

In your view, as the CEO of a National Standards Body, what challenges will the standards system face in the next several years?

I would repeat the same challenges I mentioned in connection with ISO. We have to establish our information technology, otherwise we cannot be part of the global standardization process. We do have the ability now to develop standards electronically. By the end of the year we will have converted 90 percent of all of our committees into electronic committees. But while we do distribute documents electronically, we have to learn how to develop documents using information technology. This is a major undertaking because we have to get 25,000 stakeholders educated on a new type of technology. Another challenge is of course to accelerate our workflow — two or three years is the average goal to develop a standard.

Certainly, we also have to identify new sectors and technologies where standardization is needed. We don’t do this on our own — we work with industry and universities to focus on new technologies, such as fuel cells or the service industry, to learn whether standards are needed.

Indeed, another challenge is to get the stakeholders to continue to play an active role, and to do this we have to provide them with the best tools and the best service DIN can provide.

What are DIN’s greatest strengths? Conversely, do you see any weaknesses that DIN might have?

The greatest strength is that we have managed to provide Germany with a harmonized system of standards development. As you know, in Germany, we also have a large community of associations. Each and every association has the interest of their stakeholders in mind. The strength of DIN is that, together with other stakeholders, we coordinate all standards development interests, such as those of the consumer, the government, SMEs, trade unions, and so on.

One of our tasks is to motivate our staff to look forward and identify new challenges and new technologies for standardization. The whole world is changing. If we don’t recognize these changes as imposed by the outside world, then this lack of foresight would become a weakness for DIN.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Perhaps I have stated this already, but I think it is worthwhile to repeat it. It is essential that we find a mechanism to accommodate the needs of the U.S. market, of U.S. industry, so that at the end of the day we really come to a harmonized set of standards. I’m not saying that we want to eliminate competition, just the opposite. We want national economies to compete, but on a fair basis without any barriers to trade generated from a different set of standards.

I would say we have to come to a point where standardization bodies do not compete with each other. We standards developers have to serve our stakeholders. And in this context, ASTM and DIN have had a close relationship for years. I think we can both make positive contributions in this direction. I’m glad that in the year 2004 we can host the ASTM board meeting. I think this is an ideal signal to the outside world that we are aware that we may have different policies, but nevertheless we work together in friendship and cooperation. //

Copyright 2003, ASTM