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Leveraging Global Standards in Policy Making: Interviewing an IEEE GEPS Representative

IEEE Standards have long been leveraged by the public sector around the world as powerful instruments to support public policy initiatives, provide modern infrastructure, and advance humanity.

To help governments better understand and utilize IEEE standards and related services, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) has the IEEE Government Engagement Program on Standards (GEPS) — a tailored program for representatives of government bodies or agencies from around the world to interact with IEEE standards leadership and technical standards experts.

In 2020, GEPS has seen a significant growth of representatives with a total of 27 government bodies participating in IEEE GEPS. Ramy Fathy of the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) of Egypt shares how his long-term participation in GEPS has been beneficial to NTRA and what advice he would give to governments looking to get engaged with IEEE.

“GEPS presents a mechanism for government experts – especially those engaged with standards development – to receive first-hand information about IEEE SA’s activities and plans, opening possibilities for analyzing and potentially adopting high-quality standards and other initiatives.”

Karen McCabe: Mr. Fathy, you are the National Telecom Regulatory Authority’s (NTRA) representative in GEPS. What were your motivations for joining GEPS?

Ramy Fathy: In 2019, we received an invitation from IEEE SA to join GEPS. GEPS presents a mechanism for government experts – especially those engaged with standards development – to receive first-hand information about IEEE SA’s activities and plans, opening possibilities for analyzing and potentially adopting high-quality standards and other initiatives.

Additionally, it is a platform that enables channeling-in government requirements, priorities, and/or regulatory views into the IEEE SA governance process at an early stage. By participating in the meetings, and engaging with the IEEE SA industry experts, we get to participate in shaping IEEE SA’s activities by providing input into IEEE’s standardization ecosystem.

Egypt has had a long history in fostering technologies that have a real impact on our societies. We have been leaders in adopting the latest technological advances since the 1980s, and we have a long history of engagements with leading international standards developing organizations (SDOs) like ITU, IEC, and ISO.

By formally being part of IEEE GEPS, we continue our steady technology policy of being openly engaged with industry and market technology leaders, helping to create mutual synergies and opening up opportunities that benefit Egypt, and our African and Arab regions.

KM: Among the many benefits for GEPS representatives, such as receiving first-hand information about IEEE SA’s activities and plans, and connecting with other GEPS representatives to share insights and experiences, GEPS representatives may also be considered for membership in the IEEE SA Standards Board (SASB) and its committees. You have seized this opportunity: You became a member of the SASB Audit Committee (AudCom) and Review Committee (RevCom). What made you want to actively participate in those two committees?

RF: As a member of GEPS, I was able to witness up close the IEEE SA governance activities which, in a way, facilitated the access of the information required to identify the standing committees we needed to interact with, and highlighted their scope and purpose.

Personally, I have been engaged in international standards development activities for more than a decade. Participating in standards-making processes provides a means to provide input early on, and to express national and regional views.

Over the years, thousands of engineers and technology experts from around the world have gathered together in technology fora, consortia and SDOs to create the standards that enable all ICT systems to function.

Standards are important to ensure reliability, safety, and interoperability. Without standards, different systems might not interwork with each other, and this is a situation that regulators and governments are always keen to avoid. It is thus imperative for governments to ensure that technology strives on its own, whereby sound and effective regulatory measures promote competition, stimulate innovation, and avoid potential vendors lock-in. In addition, it is essential to develop regulatory frameworks that enable the provisioning of innovative digital services in the market, while meeting end-user’s expectations from the quality and affordability points of view, and while addressing any regulatory and/or legal constraints.

“Standards serve the global community, and nearly all stakeholders […] Having participated in the IEEE SASB AudCom and NesCom allowed me to provide constructive input to the technical community on technical matters […] This helps in shaping the global technology landscape and in creating synergies on global and national scales. It also opens collaboration opportunities with industry and other stakeholders at a regional and global scale.”

Since no single SDO can cover the whole technology stack, nor  all technology domains, it is advisable to participate in relevant different standardization bodies, fora and consortia. This was the primary motivation to decide to approach IEEE SA after joining GEPS; to be engaged on a deeper level in their standardization governance activities, whereby a two-way dialogue is deemed necessary to develop consensus views on technology roadmaps and standardization directions.

Besides, one gets to witness the different governance processes up close which helps in better understanding how IEEE SA functions, and potentially opens channels for further dialogue and cooperation with IEEE industry experts.

Standards serve the global community, and nearly all stakeholders – whether they belong to governments, the private sector or the end users – will eventually be affected by standards. Having participated in the IEEE SASB AudCom and NesCom allowed me to provide constructive input to the technical community on technical matters, in addition to expressing expertise, views, and knowledge on a wide range of technology topics. This helps in shaping the global technology landscape and creating synergies on global and national scales. It also opens collaboration opportunities with industry and other stakeholders at a regional and global scale.

Furthermore, members of the standing committees are all experts from different regions, and with various complementing domains of knowledge; which only enriched the overall experience of the IEEE SA governance process.

KM: What three pieces of advice would you give governments interested in collaborating with IEEE?

RF: Participating in standards development activities requires a special set of skills and a considerable amount of hard work, and preparation; in addition to an acquaintance of policy, strategy, and technology issues. Accordingly, the decision to engage with a particular SDO could be costly. Hence, to be cost-effective, governments should identify and focus on areas of priorities. For example, what technology domain they wish to tackle, and which particular stack, and why? Which industry specification group, forum, consortium, and which SDO they wish to be engaged with and how?

In principle, engaging with an SDO – or joining its activities – does not necessarily mean a general ‘carte blanche’ endorsement or approval of all standards developed or issued by that organization. In my opinion, the engagement indicates that the stakeholders have the opportunity to express their views and provide input through a formal and well established consensus-building process. Furthermore, governments – in principle -, always have the right to adopt and choose suitable standards that comply with their policies and regulations.

So, it might be beneficial for governments to join IEEE GEPS, or, in the case of other SDOs, to join similar programs; and/or possibly join Fellowship programs whereby a general introduction on the SDO’s activities is provided. These programs help to shed light on the organization’s objectives, structure, mandates, and areas of focus. This could help to identify potential areas of collaboration and any other future engagements, and helps in selecting relevant standards that are aligned with national laws and regulations.

My third and last piece of advice with respect to engagements with SDOs in general, and IEEE SA in particular, is to prepare the right team early on through regional partnership programs. Standards development activities are time-consuming; they require a special skill set and a wide range of knowledge in different domains. To quickly succeed in achieving the governments’ policy objectives, international cooperation and partnerships are needed with countries that share similar regional challenges and/or policy objectives. This could be a key instrument to help bridge any potential standardization gap, and to quickly achieve the policy/technology goals.

“Standards development activities are time-consuming; they require a special skill set and a wide range of knowledge in different domains. To quickly succeed in achieving the governments’ policy objectives, international cooperation and partnerships are needed with countries that share similar regional challenges and/or policy objectives.”

 

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Karen McCabe

Senior Director, Public Affairs & Marketing, IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) - Karen McCabe is a Senior Director of Public Affairs & Marketing at IEEE where she drives efforts to build and connect communities working at the intersection of technology, standards, and policy. Karen has held various leadership and senior management positions in the technology sector, with a specific focus in the global standards and technology domain. Karen is engaged in efforts in climate change, digital inclusion, identity management, data governance, ethics and technology, and global standards in trade and policy. Karen is a member of the OECD Internet Technical Advisory Committee and works with an array of organizations and bodies to connect technologists, industry leaders and policymakers where she develops partnerships and builds alliances across stakeholder communities.

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