International Organization for Standardization

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International Organization for Standardization
Organisation internationale de normalisation

ISO members.png
list of members

Formation February 23, 1947
Type NGO
Headquarters Flag of Switzerland Geneva, Switzerland
Membership 157 members
Official languages English and French

The International Organization for Standardization (Organisation internationale de normalisation), widely known as the ISO, is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. Founded on February 23, 1947, the organization promulgates world-wide proprietary, industrial, and commercial standards. As of May 2008, the ISO consists of "national standards institutes of 157 countries, one member per country,"[1] headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.[2]

While ISO defines itself as a non-governmental organization, its ability to set standards that often become law, either through treaties or national standards, makes it more powerful than most non-governmental organizations. In practice, the ISO acts as a consortium with strong links to governments.

As with other internationally adopted rules and standards, fairness of rules and transparency of the decision making process are important issues. For example, Microsoft lobbied for the implementation of the standardization of ISO/IEC 29500 Office Open XML, which demonstrates that ISO can become a powerful tool for a single party if it is driven by the interests of a particular group.

Name and abbreviation

The organization's name in its two official languages, English and French, include the letters ISO, and it is usually referred to by these letters. ISO does not, however, refer to an acronym or initialism for the organization's full name in either official language. Rather, the organization adopted ISO based on the Greek word ἴσος (isos), which means equal. Recognizing that the organization’s initials would be different in different languages, the organization's founders chose ISO as the universal short form of its name. This, in itself, reflects the aim of the organization: to equalize and standardize across cultures.[3]

Benefits of standardization

ISO highlights benefits of international standardization:

ISO standards can

  1. Make the development, manufacturing and supply of products and services more efficient, safer and cleaner
  2. Facilitate trade between countries and make it fairer
  3. Provide governments with a technical base for health, safety and environmental legislation, and conformity assessment
  4. Share technological advances and good management practice
  5. Disseminate innovation
  6. Safeguard consumers, and users in general, of products and services
  7. Make life simpler by providing solutions to common problems[4]

International standards and other publications

ISO's main products are the International Standards. ISO also publishes Technical Reports, Technical Specifications, Publicly Available Specifications, Technical Corrigenda, and Guides.[5]

International Standards are identified in the format ISO[/IEC][/ASTM] [IS] nnnnn[:yyyy] Title, where nnnnn is the number of the standard, yyyy is the year published, and Title describes the subject. IEC is included if the standard results from the work of JTC (the Joint Technical Committee). ASTM is used for standards developed in cooperation with ASTM International. The date and IS are not used for an incomplete or unpublished standard, and may under some circumstances be left off the title of a published work.

Technical Reports can be issued when "a technical committee or subcommittee has collected data of a different kind from that which is normally published as an International Standard," such as references and explanations. The naming conventions for these are the same as for standards, except TR prepended instead IS in the report's name. Examples:

  • ISO/IEC TR 17799:2000 Code of Practice for Information Security Management
  • ISO/TR 19033:2000 Technical product documentation—Metadata for construction documentation

Technical Specifications can be produced when "the subject in question is still under development or where for any other reason there is the future but not immediate possibility of an agreement to publish an International Standard." Publicly Available Specifications may be "an intermediate specification, published prior to the development of a full International Standard, or, in IEC may be a 'dual logo' publication published in collaboration with an external organization." Both are named by convention similar to Technical Reports, for example:

  • ISO/TS 16952-1:2006 Technical product documentation—Reference designation system—Part 1: General application rules
  • ISO/PAS 11154:2006 Road vehicles—Roof load carriers

ISO sometimes issues a Technical Corrigendum. These are amendments to existing standards because of minor technical flaws, usability improvements, or to extend applicability in a limited way. Generally, these are issued with the expectation that the affected standard will be updated or withdrawn at its next scheduled review.

ISO Guides are meta-standards covering "matters related to international standardization." They are named in the format "ISO[/IEC] Guide N:yyyy: Title," for example:

  • ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004 Standardization and related activities—General vocabulary
  • ISO/IEC Guide 65:1996 General requirements for bodies operating product certification

ISO document copyright

ISO documents are copyrighted and ISO charges for their reproduction. ISO does not, however, charge for most draft copies of documents in electronic format. Although useful, care must be taken using these drafts as there is the possibility of substantial change before it becomes finalized as a standard. Some standards by ISO and its official U.S. representative (and the International Electrotechnical Commission's via the U.S. National Committee) are made freely available.[6]


A map of standards bodies who are ISO members
██ members ██ correspondent members ██ subscriber members ██ other places with an ISO 3166-1 code who aren't members of ISO

ISO has 157 national members,[7] out of the 195 total countries in the world.

ISO has three membership categories:

  • Member bodies are national bodies that are considered to be the most representative standards body in each country. These are the only members of ISO that have voting rights.
  • Correspondent members are countries that do not have their own standards organization. These members are informed about ISO's work, but do not participate in standards promulgation.
  • Subscriber members are countries with small economies. They pay reduced membership fees, but can follow the development of standards.

Participating members are called "P" members as opposed to observing members which are called "O" members.

Products named after ISO

The fact that many of the ISO-created standards are ubiquitous has led, on occasion, to common usage of "ISO" to describe the actual product that conforms to a standard. Some examples of this are:

  • CD images end in the file extension "ISO" to signify that they are using the ISO 9660 standard file system as opposed to another file system—hence CD images are commonly referred to as "ISOs." Virtually all computers with CD-ROM drives can read CDs that use this standard. Some DVD-ROMs also use ISO 9660 file systems.
  • Photographic film's sensitivity to light, its "film speed," is described by ISO 5800:1987. Hence, the film's speed is often referred to as its "ISO number."

ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1

To deal with the consequences of substantial overlap in areas of standardization and work related to information technology, ISO and the IEC formed a Joint Technical Committee known as the ISO/IEC JTC1. It was the first such committee, and to date remains the only one.

Its official mandate is to develop, maintain, promote, and facilitate IT standards required by global markets meeting business and user requirements concerning

  • Design and development of IT systems and tools
  • Performance and quality of IT products and systems
  • Security of IT systems and information
  • Portability of application programs
  • Interoperability of IT products and systems
  • Unified tools and environments
  • Harmonized IT vocabulary
  • User-friendly and ergonomically-designed user interfaces

There are currently 18 sub-committees:

  • SC 02—Coded Character Sets
  • SC 06—Telecommunications and Information Exchange Between Systems
  • SC 07—Software and System Engineering
  • SC 17—Cards and Personal Identification
  • SC 22—Programming Languages, their Environments and Systems Software Interfaces
  • SC 23—Removable Digital Storage Media Utilizing Optical and/or Magnetic Recording * Technology for Digital
  • SC 24—Computer Graphics and Image Processing
  • SC 25—Interconnection of Information Technology Equipment
  • SC 27—IT Security Techniques
  • SC 28—Office Equipment
  • SC 29—Coding of Audio, Picture, and Multimedia and Hypermedia Information
  • SC 31—Automatic Identification and Data Capture Techniques
  • SC 32—Data Management and Interchange
  • SC 34—Document Description and Processing Languages
  • SC 35—User Interfaces
  • SC 36—Information Technology for Learning, Education, and Training
  • SC 37—Biometrics

Membership in ISO/IEC JTC1 is restricted in much the same way as membership in either of the two parent organizations. A member can be either participating (P) or observing (O) and the difference is mainly the ability to vote on proposed standards and other products. There is no requirement for any member body to maintain either (or any) status on all of the sub-committees. Although rare, sub-committees can be created to deal with new situations (SC 37 was approved in 2002) or disbanded if the area of work is no longer relevant.

IWA document

Like ISO/TS, International Workshop Agreement (IWA) is another armoury of ISO that provides requirements for standardization in areas where the technical structures and expertise are not currently in place.


Except for a few,[8] most ISO standards are normally not available free of charge. They are available for a purchase fee, which has been seen by some as too expensive for small open source projects.[9]

ISO has garnered criticism for the handling of the standardization process of the recently approved ISO/IEC 29500 Office Open XML and the ISO rubberstamping of OASIS approved standards like ISO/IEC 26300 OpenDocument. Martin Bryan, Convener of ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34, and WG1, is quoted by saying:

I would recommend to my successor that it is perhaps time to pass WG1’s outstanding standards over to OASIS, where they can get approval in less than a year and then do a PAS submission to ISO, which will get a lot more attention and be approved much faster than standards currently can be within WG1

Various IT circles have criticized the disparity of rules for PAS, Fast-Track and ISO committee generated standards, and attribute this to the increasing practice of "standardization by corporation."[10]

Computer security entrepreneur and Ubuntu investor, Mark Shuttleworth, commented on the Standardization of Office Open XML process by saying

I think it de-values the confidence people have in the standards setting process,” and that ISO did not carry out its responsibility.

He also noted his opinion that Microsoft had intensely lobbied many countries that traditionally had not participated in ISO and stacked technical committees with Microsoft employees, solution providers and resellers sympathetic to Office Open XML.

When you have a process built on trust and when that trust is abused, ISO should halt the process … ISO is an engineering old boys club and these things are boring so you have to have a lot of passion … then suddenly you have an investment of a lot of money and lobbying and you get artificial results … The process is not set up to deal with intensive corporate lobbying and so you end up with something being a standard that’s not clear.[11]


  1., About ISO. Retrieved April 29, 2008.
  2. ISO, Discover ISO—Meet ISO. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
  3. ISO, ISO's name. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
  4. ISO, Discover ISO. Retrieved April 29, 2008.
  5. ISO/IEC, ISO Directives, Part 1: Procedures for the Technical Work, 5th edition. Retrieved September 9, 2007.
  6. ISO, Freely Available ISO Standards. Retrieved August 8, 2008.
  7. ISO, General Information on ISO. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
  8. ISO, Freely Available Standards. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  9. Rick Jelliffe, Where to get ISO Standards on the Internet free. Retrieved April 26, 2008.
  10., [ Report on WG1 activity for December 2007 Meeting of ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34/WG1 in Kyoto.] Retrieved May 28, 2008.
  11., Ubuntu’s Shuttleworth blames ISO for OOXML’s win. Retrieved May 28, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Garcia, I., M.C. Ortiz, L. Sarabia, C. Vilches, and E. Gredilla. 2003. "Advances in Methodology for the Validation of Methods According to the International Organization for Standardization." Journal of Chromatography. A. 992, no. 1-2: 11-27.
  • Hallström, Kristina Tamm. Organizing International Standardization: ISO and the IASC in Quest of Authority. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2004.
  • Hamann, R., T. Agbazue, P. Kapelus, and A. Hein. 2005. "Universalizing Corporate Social Responsibility? South African Challenges to the International Organization for Standardization's New Social Responsibility Standard." Business and Society Reivew. 110, no. 1: 1-19.
  • Murphy, Craig, and JoAnne Yates. ISO, the International Organization for Standardization: Global Governance Through Voluntary Consensus. London: Routledge, 2008. ISBN 9780415774291.

External links

All links retrieved March 4, 2018.


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