Since its inception in 1922, the organisation then known as the Australian Commonwealth Engineering Standards Australia Association and now Standards Australia (SA) has seen change in the environment in which it operates – especially as the electronic revolution has seen paper based systems go largely by the wayside.

To stay ahead, the organisation itself must evolve.

Toward this end, it is overhauling its operations across five areas: governance structures, technology platforms, business structures, talents and capabilities and innovation.

Through this, the organisation is attempting to ensure that it has:

  • appropriate governance structures to deliver accountability across its operations
  • suitable technology platforms and business structures to enable flexibility and choice for stakeholders who either consume its output or wish to engage with the organisation on standard setting processes
  • adequate capabilities and skills to deliver optimal output; and
  • an overall culture and focus upon innovation and ongoing improvement which overlays these areas.

According to SA chief executive officer Bronwyn Evans, the organisation wants to become more responsive to the requirements of stakeholders and easier to partner with. This, she says, means simpler systems, faster timeframes for new standards and an overall improved user and stakeholder experience.

To demonstrate, Evans points to the organisation’s efforts in digital transformation. Having discarded its dated SQL database system, Standards Australia has a new digital repository based on a MarkLogic system which will facilitate greater semantic search capability and will enable greater flexibility for users by providing the capability, for example, to store their standards in a raw XML format. A new contributor portal under development, meanwhile, will enable users to upload contributions to new or improved standards using the technology and format of their choice. The aim, Evans said, was to ‘future-proof’ the organisation’s systems and enable these to respond to new or different formats or technologies.

Beyond this, user-driven ‘ground-up’ innovation will occur via a new digital incubator. Described on its website as a ‘sandpit’, this will enable users to propose ideas for better standard delivery and standard setting processes. Given that current processes on the latter point involve extensive in-person meetings among technical committees, SA sees potential to make processes of contributing faster and easier. This, it hopes, will promote wider and deeper engagement throughout standard setting processes and reduce average timeframes required to complete a new/improved standard process from eighteen months to six.

In terms of how engineers will notice a practical difference, Sourceable put to Evans the example of the head of a medium sized civil engineering firm with operations involving around 50 staff spread across several states. Such a person, Evans says, will see change in four areas.

First, when fully implemented, features such as new publishing tools in XML will enable SA to offer different products and thus to partner more closely with firms such as this through tools which enable them to better support their own clientele. SA, Evans says, wants to join with that firm and be together with them in their future.

Next, the move away from SQL will provide SA with more direct access to customers like the CEO of our 50-worker firm above and thus gain greater insights from micro-level data. Where the firm uses a particular standard often, SA might go back to them and enquire about how that standard could be improved or any further data analytics SA could provide to support that firm in the use of the standard.

With that, along with the new contributor portal, SA is hoping to better prioritise the standards which need revisions and when these happen. Now, Evans says, standards are simply revised every three or five years when project proposals are received. Going forward, she says the new tools will enable revisions as soon as it becomes apparent that these are warranted.

Beyond that, Evans envisages greater options for engineers regarding how standards are written and delivered. At the moment, she says standards are largely text oriented and text heavy. This may not suit many in construction who may be more visually oriented or who might want delivery via a database which they could integrate with their Building Information Modelling systems. Indeed, one pilot program currently in the incubator is looking at how standards might be delivered visually.

Better standards, Evans says, may not necessarily be in the form of tweaks such as new wording or tables but features such as greater visual references using 3D technology – albeit with the choice of text based standards on hard copies remaining for those who prefer this.

Finally, Evens says standards could emerge in new areas such as microgrids or use of blockchain technology in construction.

Engineers applaud the changes and say that Standards Australia is beginning its transition from a position of strength.

Brent Jackson, General Manager of Engineers Australia, says the organisation is performing strongly across several areas. Initiatives through its digital transformation, he said, will not only improve access to existing standards but also promote wider involvement in standard setting processes by making these less onerous for standard contributors. Courtesy of its willingness and ability to evaluate and seek improvement, meanwhile, Jackson says SA is regarded as a thought leader across industry. Finally, he says the organisation’s industry engagement officers ‘actually practice what they preach’.

All this, Jackson said, stands in contrast to habits across both other standard setting organisations internationally and other organisations domestically. In terms of the former, Jackson says bodies often become entrenched in older structures and are inhibited in their ability to evolve as some stakeholders who become familiar with entrenched practices question the benefits of change. In respect of the latter, he says some organisations adopt a hierarchical approach toward consultation.

By contrast, he says SA embraces change and listens when undergoing engagement.

“With government organisations, they often come to you with a problem and a solution and say, ‘this is how we consult – we are going to tell you what we are going to do,’” Jackson said.

“They are not so much concerned with what you want and your perspective.”

“Standards (Australia) do it the other way around. They take their time and really listen. When they come to talk to us, they always ask, ‘what can we do for you that is better – what don’t we know?’”

“I know it’s a good news story and good news doesn’t always make the front page, but my hat goes off to them. Kudos where kudos is due.”

Australia’s standard setting body is undergoing change.

If all goes well, engineers will enjoy better delivery of existing standard content, greater opportunity to contribute to standards and the delivery of standards in formats which better suit their needs.