Bernardo Calzadilla Sarmiento
Managing Director, Digitalization, Technology & Agri-Business at UNIDO
Today, we are at the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which brings physical and biological systems into the digital realm. From artificial intelligence to mobile supercomputing, we are at the start of a new digital age that is transforming every part of our lives. Quality Infrastructure (QI) is no exception. QI is the combination of initiatives, institutions, organizations, activities and people that help ensure products and services meet the requirements of customers. Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) are at the heart of this important work, as the link between regulators, industry and markets.
A central characteristic of the 4IR is the ever-increasing connection between people, technology and industry. This is having a far-reaching impact on the future of conformity assessment – and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)’s ongoing work. Some of these concepts and technologies include smart laboratories, blockchain technology, Metrology 4.0, drones, sensors, and real-time information. But the 4IR – and this new digital age – poses a series of challenges for CABs.
First, how to operate in a world where products are increasingly digital – either in part or fully. And second, how to embrace digital technology in their own work, such as drones for inspection, machine learning, smart sensors, ICT based remote auditing, and much more. And finally, how to meet the ever-increasing demand from global consumers for quality and safety. This is where UNIDO is playing an important role, advancing the future of conformity assessment by helping CABs deliver this vital mission in this new digital age.
CABs can also play a vital role in sustainable development. A notable aspect of this new digital age has been the continued decoupling of economic growth from the consumption of resources. CABs can help move us towards a more circular economy, by driving more sustainable production and responsible consumption. Ultimately, these are the kinds of new pathways we need to take to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which sit at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The demands of this new digital age are a particular challenge in developing countries, where systems and laboratories are not always available, or as effective as they could be.
Administrative shortcomings can include outdated institutional frameworks, inadequate coordination of laboratories, poor information sharing and unnecessary duplication of efforts. Ultimately, this can lead to valuable resources being wasted. There can be numerous infrastructure challenges too. CABs in developing countries can struggle to fulfil their mandated services – such as testing, inspections and certifications – due to a lack of equipment, facilities, and laboratory staff with the right knowledge or training. For private sector companies, it can be hard to find conformity assessment providers that are both demonstrably competent and recognized in destination markets.
Developing countries are striving to enhance their export competitiveness, strengthen their export base and become more integrated with international trade flows. To achieve this, convenient and cost-effective conformity assessment services are vital. As the largest multilateral player in QI development, with a proven track record of enhancing national capacity, UNIDO is the preferred partner of many developed countries (as donors) and developing countries (as recipients of international technical assistance). Policymakers and practitioners turn to UNIDO for their transformative and tailored solutions, from specialized training to the transfer of technical knowledge.
Over the last twenty years, UNIDO has supported more than 1,000 CABs in 58 countries in regions across the world, helping numerous developing countries increase their productive capacity, export base and domestic and foreign investment. In addition, UNIDO has developed a series of complementary tools to help fulfil the demand for quality services in developing countries. These tools help quality infrastructure practitioners and policymakers develop robust, holistic, and demand-driven quality infrastructure systems. Many of these tools are guidance documents that help developing countries to strengthen their capacities in the area of quality infrastructure and conformity assessment.
It has been shown that establishing a QI can substantially assist a nation in pursuing a development path aligned with the SDGs, overcoming the challenges involved, and benefitting from the considerable opportunities generated through the achievement of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.
As a leader in the field of QI, UNIDO will have a large role to play in shaping the future of conformity assessment. By aligning its approach for quality infrastructure development and technical support to the demands of the digital era, it can ensure its contributions remain relevant, timely and sustainable. UNIDO’s activities will continue to stimulate knowledge transfer – particularly for CABs in developing countries – to ensure that no country is left behind. With such a pivotal role in helping achieve the 2030 Agenda, every step that we take from now on will directly impact our people and our planet.
Categories: IAF Liaisons