BSI Flex: Supporting innovation and resilience in fast-paced markets

Innovation and change are naturally fluid and dynamic. Whereas standards are typically seen as being all about stable consensus. Right?

In fact, standards already play a vital role in underpinning the adoption of innovative products, services and processes. They provide a way of uniting thinking from industry experts and stakeholders into a consensus view of “what good looks like”. This fosters confidence and collaboration across supply chains, right through to the end customer or user.

The real challenge comes when you need to capture good practice and keep innovating at the same time. Take the concept of “changing an engine in mid-flight” as an example. Then consider re-designing the engine at the same time, whilst checking with a range of experts that this is still in line with the latest industry good practice. This would need a combination of flexibility, speed and rigour. 

In the “always on”, constantly changing economies of the 21st Century, this is exactly the kind of challenge – and opportunity – that we will need to address more and more often. But, how can we achieve flexibility and rigour at the same time?

The answer is a dynamic approach to developing and sharing good practice. To an extent, this is already happening in high-tech industries. For example, platforms like GitHub and Stack Overflow are used to support the development, sharing and implementation of rapid iterations of software, from code snippets to complex programmes.

But there is also a vital role for more formal standards that pull in thinking from a large range of stakeholders – often far wider than any single industry – to ensure that dynamic good practice represents a broader consensus and reflects the interests of industry, consumers and society.

BSI has developed a new type of standard, called BSI Flex, that addresses this need by capturing good practice through a series of iterations. The scope and pace of change of each iteration are market driven. Crucially, each new version will be open for consultation and review, and available for use by anyone. This complements our existing routes to standardization, British Standards and PAS.

So, what are the benefits of this new approach?

A dynamic approach is best suited to emerging areas where there is a low level of certainty about “what good looks like” and an expectation that this will need to continuously evolve. This includes new innovations as well as more established practices that are being re-invented, perhaps in response to an external shock or to tech-driven disruption.

This could help all sectors, but it is particularly important for fast-moving industries. In the digital economy, dynamic good practice is needed from AI and analytics through to the internet of things (IoT) devices and 5G infrastructure. This isn’t just about the core technologies themselves, but also how they interoperate, how they are governed, ethics, privacy, security and beyond.

Similar requirements apply when these and other technologies are used in a specific application or setting. For example, transport is being transformed through a combination of automation, electrification and shared mobility. While manufacturing is becoming ever smarter, from flexible production lines to adaptable supply chains and sourcing.

We are already starting to apply a flexible and dynamic approach in some of these sectors, including in the built environment and in transport. A good example is the rapid development and iteration of guidelines for safe working in offices and other settings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines provide a framework to enable ongoing continual improvement and ensure that organizations respond to changes as the business community learns more about safe working and government requirements evolve. The latest version reflects hundreds of contributions from experts across industry, academia, and governments globally.