In industry, the development and application of standards that make it possible to manufacture a large volume of interchangeable parts. Standardization may focus on engineering standards, such as properties of materials, fits and tolerances, and drafting practices; or on product standards, which detail the attributes of manufactured items and are embodied in formulas, descriptions, drawings, or models. Adoption of standards makes it easier for firms to communicate with their suppliers. Standards are also used within industries to prevent conflict and duplication of effort. Governmental departments, trade associations, and technical associations help to set standards within industries; these are coordinated and promoted by organizations such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

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Standardization (or standardisation) is the process of developing and agreeing upon technical standards. A standard is a document that establishes uniform engineering or technical specifications, criteria, methods, processes, or practices. Some standards are mandatory while others are voluntary. Some standards are de facto, meaning a norm or requirement which has an informal but dominant status. Some standards are de jure, meaning formal legal requirements. Formal standards bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) or the American National Standards Institute are independent of the manufacturers of the goods for which they publish standards.

The goals of standardization can be to help with independence of single suppliers (commodification), compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, or quality.

In social sciences, including economics, the idea of standardization is close to the solution for a coordination problem, a situation in which all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions. Standardization is defined as best technical application consentual wisdom inclusive of processes for selection in making appropriate choices for ratification coupled with consistent decisions for maintaining obtained standards. This view includes the case of "spontaneous standardization processes", to produce de facto standards.


Standardization is the process of establishing a technical standard, which could be a standard specification, standard test method, standard definition, standard procedure (or practice), etc. It can also be viewed as a mechanism for optimising economic use of scarce resources such as forests, which are threatened by paper manufacture. As an example, all of Europe now uses 230 V 50 Hz AC mains grids and GSM mobile phones, and measures lengths in metres. The United Kingdom has officially accepted metres for business purposes but feet and inches are still widely used by the general public.

The existence of a published standard does not necessarily imply that it is useful or correct. Just because an item is stamped with a standard number does not, by itself, indicate that the item is fit for any particular use. The people who use the item or service (engineers, trade unions, etc) or specify it (building codes, government, industry, etc) have the responsibility to consider the available standards, specify the correct one, enforce compliance, and use the item correctly. Validation of suitability is necessary.

In the context of social criticism and social sciences, standardization often means the process of establishing standards of various kinds and improving efficiency to handle people, their interactions, cases, and so forth. Examples include formalization of judicial procedure in court, and establishing uniform criteria for diagnosing mental disease. Standardization in this sense is often discussed along with (or synonymously to) such large-scale social changes as modernization, bureaucratization, homogenization, and centralization of society.

In the context of business information exchanges, standardization refers to the process of developing data exchange standards for specific business processes using specific syntaxes. These standards are usually developed in voluntary consensus standards bodies such as the United Nations Center for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT), the World Wide Web Consortium W3C, and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

Standards can be:

  • de facto standards which means they are followed by informal convention or dominant usage.
  • de jure standards which are part of legally binding contracts, laws or regulations.
  • Voluntary standards which are published and available for people to consider for use

In general, each country or economy has a single recognized National Standards Body (NSB). Examples include ABNT, ANSI, BSI, DGN, DIN, IRAM, JISC, KATS, SABS, SAC, SCC, SIS, SNZ. An NSB is likely the sole member from that economy in ISO.

NSBs may be either public or private sector organizations, or combinations of the two. For example, the three NSBs of Canada, Mexico and the United States are respectively the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), the General Bureau of Standards (Dirección General de Normas, DGN), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). SCC is a Canadian Crown Corporation, DGN is a governmental agency within the Mexican Ministry of Economy, and ANSI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with members from both the private and public sectors. The determinates of whether an NSB for a particular economy is a public or private sector body may include the historical and traditional roles that the private sector fills in public affairs in that economy or the development stage of that economy.

Many specifications that govern the operation and interaction of devices and software on the Internet are in use. To preserve the word "standard" as the domain of relatively disinterested bodies such as ISO, the W3C, for example, publishes "Recommendations", and the IETF publishes "Requests for Comments" (RFCs). These publications are sometimes referred to as being standards. Drafts and working documents should not be considered as formal published standards.

In a military context, standardization can be defined as: The development and implementation of concepts, doctrines, procedures and designs to achieve and maintain the required levels of compatibility, interchangeability or commonality in the operational, procedural, material, technical and administrative fields to attain interoperability.

Note: there are at least four levels of standardization: compatibility, interchangeability, commonality and reference. These standardization processes create compatibility, similarity, measurement and symbol standards.

Other uses

  • In statistics, standardization refers to conversion to standard scores.
  • In test theory, standardization refers to measurements or assessments conducted under exact, specified, and repeatable conditions.
  • In supply chain management, standardization refers to approaches for increasing commonality of either part, process, product or procurement. Such change will enable delayed making of manufacturing or procurement decisions, thus reducing variability found in having many non-standard components.
  • From a New institutional economics point of view, standardization process starts with a social problem known as "coordination dilemma". Standards, as "voluntary norms", serve to facilitate the resolution of coordination dilemmas and realize mutual gains; then standard refer also to a kind of social dilemma solution.


Types of standardization process:

  • Emergence as de facto standard: tradition, market domination, etc.
  • Written by a Standards organization:
    • in an impositive process: written by edict by a regulator, etc.
    • in a closed consensus process: Restricted membership (for example, a trade association) and having formal procedures for due-process among voting members
    • in a full consensus process: usually open to all interested and qualified parties and with formal procedures for due-process considerations.

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