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American National Standards Institute (ANSI)

AMERICAN NATIONAL STANDARDS INSTITUTE (ANSI)

A private, non-profit organization that works to coordinate voluntary standards, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is the hub of all standards-related policy decisions in the United States. It is the primary U.S. body that coordinates the efforts of industry, consumer, and governmental standards developers, and is the sole organization that accredits other U.S. standards organizations. With offices in New York City and headquarters in Washington, D.C., ANSI's mission is to boost the competitiveness of U.S. business and the American quality of life by ensuring the U.S. voluntary standardization system is well coordinated and promoted. Therefore, ANSI sees to it that U.S. businesses and industries maintain an adequate performance level for products, services, and processes, ideally keeping in mind the range of affected interests.

ANSI has played an important role in U.S. commerce for many years. It was founded in 1918 by a coalition of five engineering societies and three government agencies. The organization generates funding through its membership, which is comprised of nearly 1,000 private and public sector members, including individual companies, organizations, governmental agencies, institutions, and international organizations.

Mainly a service to the U.S. private sector and its position in the global economy, ANSI also works closely with governmental organizations. ANSI often coordinates its efforts with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's technology administration. A key area of activity is conformity assessment. Through its accreditation process, ANSI oversees the moves made by manufacturers and others to incorporate voluntary standards. ANSI confers the "American National Standard" (ANS) designation upon those organizations that meet its basic guidelines of due process, openness, balance, and consensus in setting and meeting the organization's voluntary standards.

ANSI does not, however, actually write or implement standards. Rather, the organization acts as a consensus-generating facilitator between various groups devoted to developing standards specific to their areas of concern. In this way, ANSI eschews a top-down approach to standards development, leaving the various sectors with autonomy in creating standards appropriate to the conditions they face. ANSI simply seeks to ease the standards into use with an eye toward a holistic look at U.S. competitiveness and quality-of-life issues.

ANSI ON THE WORLD STAGE

ANSI is the U.S. affiliate of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), of which it is a founding member and one of the five permanent members of the governing ISO Council. ANSI also is a member of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC). Additionally, ANSI champions the adoption of U.S.-based standards on the international scene, and when appropriate, aims to incorporate international standards in the United States.

There is a perpetual tension surrounding the nationalistic character of standards, whereby individual nations insist on autonomy in setting their own standards. Conversely, the internationalization of standards carries some of the same complications to the next level. Nations sometimes disagree when another tries to impose its standards as the global ones, thereby attaining a state of hegemony and other advantages. In the late 1990s, European organizations increasingly introduced new standards that some in the United States feared would undermine U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace. ANSI and related organizations thus recognized the need to produce a more systematic and responsive U.S. standardization environment.

Facing the emergence of relatively clear European standards and their influence on global commerce, in September 2000 ANSI presented a proposed "National Standards Strategy for the United States" to the U.S. House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Technology. Stemming from a 1998 standards summit co-hosted by ANSI and NIST, which gathered government, industry, and consumer groups, the proposal marked the end of two years of cooperative efforts. With the dramatic increase in global trade, foreign competition, and the growing concern with protecting health, safety, and the environment, we "can't assume that U.S. technology and practice will automatically be adopted everywhere," the proposal stated, noting that "emerging economies with the potential for explosive growth are looking to ISO and IEC for standards" rather than to the United States.

While renewing support for the established U.S. standards-writing principleswhich cherish open participation by all interested parties and easy access to the status and progress of standards writingANSI called for a 12-step program to be undertaken in the United States. Its purpose was to give the nation a unified voice and a quick, fair, and workable standards-writing and implementation process for competing in the global marketplace. The steps involved included integrating several elements into the writing process. Among these were the environmental, health, and safety concerns of affected parties; a greater awareness and consideration of consumer concerns; and coordinated efforts with industries in other countries. In December 2000, ANSI and NIST signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that aimed to further the National Standards Strategy by increasing communication between the two organizations and private and public interests in the United States. Moreover, the MoU shored up the recognition of ANSI as the sole international representative of U.S. standards interests.

The voluntary nature of U.S. standards is one impediment to the systematic adoption of standards throughout an industry, country, or across the globe, despite ANSI's efforts to broaden the application of voluntary standards. Moreover, the wave of downsizing in the U.S. economy in the 1990s often eliminated the layers of workers devoted to the technical aspects of applying standards. The National Standards Strategy was designed to address and overcome these difficulties.

ANSI AND THE INTERNET

Before e-commerce, ANSI already was involved in standardizing processes for computers. For instance, the well-known C programming language was approved by the ANSI committee, thereby ensuring that most C compilers were compatible with each other, regardless of the vendor. Additionally, ANSI established a range of standards for both electronic and electrical components and interactions, and set the standards for a range of communications protocols, including those for fiber-optic data transmission.

As the Internet opened up in the early 1990s and e-commerce became an increasingly important social and economic phenomenon, ANSI again kicked into high gear to coordinate the virtually wide-open move to develop protocols and standards. With the Internet and e-commerce speeding the pace of development and change, there grew increasing calls for a speeding of the standards-setting process. For instance, developments in the methods of online payments are crucial to the development and expansion of e-commerce, and it's crucial that the speed and security of such payments keep pace with the speed of the Internet in general. In that spirit, ANSI oversaw the development of uniform standards for electronic signatures, which facilitate the employment of e-checks for online payment. These standards set guidelines for the generation, verification, and security of electronic signatures.

In the early 2000s, the ANSI-accredited ASC X12 Committee focused on pan-industrial businessstandards for Extensible Markup Language (XML), a hypertext meta-language allowing for the definition of Web-based information, design, and communication. The committee based its standards-writing on the Electronic Business XML (ebXML) initiative, which is designed to facilitate the business-to-business e-commerce market. The standards aim to coordinate a set of business "objects," valid across national boundaries, which define elements of online transactions.

ANSI also oversaw the many different groups dedicated to developing standards for storage-area networks (SANs). Often, the major manufacturers in a given industry will proceed with the development of a de facto standard before ANSI even gets involved. However, according to Computer Technology Review, such ANSI-less standards are much more difficult to establish when dealing with many vendors that provide very similar products that must work in an open network environment, as is the case with SANs. As a result, ANSI took the initiative in working with SAN companies and organizations at a fairly early stage in the standards-development process.

In the late 1990s, ANSI joined 24 other standards organizations worldwide in calling for the development of international e-commerce standards, mainly to protect consumers. These proposals included measures to ensure the reliability of merchants and to safeguard privacy and the security of financial information. At the ISO's Committee on Consumer Policy (COPOLCO) meeting in May 2000, COPOLCO presented evidence that consumers, for lack of confidence in these areas, often were hesitant to engage in online commerce. Thus, the development of such standards was of great concern to consumers and businesses alike. The lack of standardization in an area with such rich opportunities provided business groups with a vital stake in contributing to and facilitating an e-commerce standardization process.

The result of the COPOLCO meeting was the creation of the E-Commerce Consumer Standards Solutions Forum, which centers worldwide discussion on the implementation of international standards for the online marketplace. The ultimate goal was increased consumer acceptance of and involvement in e-commerce, aided by multilateral governmental agreements, domestic regulations, standards created and implemented through the normal domestic and international channels, consumer education and out-reach, and other approaches.

FURTHER READING:

"Implementation of the U.S. National Standards Strategy and Coordinated Efforts in International Standardization Play Key Roles in Revised MoU Between ANSI and NIST." Washington, D.C.: American National Standards Institute, February 2001. Available from web.ansi.org.

"An Introduction to ANSI." Washington, D.C.: American National Standards Institute, 2000. Available from www.ansi.org.

"ISO COPOLCO and the Euro Commission Establish On-line Forums for E-Commerce Discussions." Washington, D.C.: American National Standards Institute, August 2000. Available from web.ansi.org.

Lyford, Richard. "Developing Standards for Storage Area Networks." Computer Technology Review. October 1999.

Murphy, Patricia A. "Building An Internet Payments Platform." Bank Technology News. September 2000.

Nailen, Richard L. "As the World Turns, Standards Writing Gets More Complex." Electrical Apparatus. December 2000.

Zuckerman, Amy. "Hot Global Standards and Testing Trends." World Trade. October 2000.

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