Conformity and accreditation. A problem for a digital age?

Industry News February 8, 2022
Conformity and accreditation. A problem for a digital age?
NATA team

Global data standards underpin the digital transformation of supply chains across almost every area of trade. Supply chain data must become interoperable, globally linked and accessible – or it will become increasingly irrelevant.

Digital standards already address aspects such as trade item identification, location tracking, e-payment, e-invoicing and customs data exchange.  NATA and JASANZ, in conjunction with the global data standards body GS1, have now given rigorous attention to the question of the digital future of conformity assessment. 

The public release of a major new report presenting the findings of this collaborative activity is expected in February 2022, details of which will be published on the NATA website.  NATA is pleased to acknowledge the support of Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) for this significant activity.

Demonstrating Product Conformity – a problem for a digital age

Global trade also depends upon confidence in the link between physically delivered products and the information attesting to the product conformity.  Increasing automation of supply chain data exchange means shrinking opportunities for manual exchange of conformity documentation. There is also less scope for human intervention to verify authenticity of conformity documentation or credentials of the issuing body.

Any digital system for managing conformity information must provide interoperable and globally linked access to validated data, in a way which is compatible with all technologies

The key to achieving these outcomes is the adoption of recognised global data standards and processes, ensuring that protocols are transferrable across different users, systems and economies.

Involvement of laboratories and inspection bodies

Australia maintains a highly reliable accreditation infrastructure for testing, inspection and certification activities for assurance of goods and services.  However, the extent to which industrial supply chains make use of this infrastructure can be highly variable.  Access by accredited test and inspection providers to global data exchange processes which are compatible with emerging digitalised supply chain protocols would represent a ’win’ for all parties. 

There are already well-established global standards for tracking goods as they move through global supply chains.  On the other hand, there is an absence of structured links within supply chains between individual physical shipments of product and the associated conformity data (or the accreditation status underpinning such data).  It seems natural to consider whether the standards for tracking physical product could be extended to the associated conformity data supplied by NATA-accredited laboratories and inspection bodies. 

Further, might capacity be developed to track (in real time) the unfolding testing/inspection ‘events’ that occur as individual shipments are assessed to the specific requirements of individual buyers and/or regulators?  In both cases, the conclusion of the forthcoming report is that established global standards might indeed be leveraged to achieve these goals. 

The forthcoming report describes a framework which is based on existing global data standards and aligned with the international frameworks for conformity assessment accreditation.  NATA looks forward to engaging with members in the future to explore what benefits this might offer to Australian laboratories and inspection bodies.

The shared goal of industry and government should be to prevent a future where supply chains involve proprietary and non-interoperable systems for product verification, resulting in market confusion and blocking future capacity for data automation.

Contact Brett Hyland for further information or

Learn more on NATA’s dedicated supply chain page.