NATA and the United Nations: Digital Conformity Assessment

Industry News September 11, 2023
NATA and the United Nations: Digital Conformity Assessment
NATA team

This month saw the publication by the United Nations e-Business group, UN/CEFACT, of a unique new paper dealing with conformity assessment.  

You can view it here

We asked project lead, NATA’s own Brett Hyland to tell us a little about what it is all about. 

How did the process begin? 

If I go right back to the start, NATA first reached out to JASANZ and GS1 Australia for assistance in exploring some ideas about exchanging product conformity information in a purely digital context.  Although these three organisations have quite different roles, they each play a critical part in the smooth functioning of supply chains.  

From our early discussions, it seemed clear to us that digitising certain processes might offer hope for solving certain problems that had bedevilled supply chains for as long as anyone cared to remember.  Problems like paper/PDF copies of certificates not updating themselves whenever a revision or withdrawal has occurred, or whether a genuine certificate attesting to some product characteristic even related to the purchased product in the first place!  

So, what were the initial steps? 

Trying to conceive of changes to the operation of global supply chains felt rather daunting, but we took some encouragement from our observation that our lines of enquiry seemed relatively unexplored in the literature. We tested our initial ideas through an extensive consultation process, leading to the publication in February 2022 of a Joint Report ‘Digitalisation of conformity and accreditation processes’  

We were very pleased with the positive reception to this work, which inspired us to begin engaging with global bodies having interest in trade and product conformance.  This process of engagement came to include a number of influential people, like the Chair of UN/CEFACT, Sue Probert.  Before we knew it, we were writing a project proposal for consideration by UN/CEFACT, which was accepted.  

We were quite fortunate in leveraging our strong international connections to bring together an incredibly well-informed group of experts, with awareness of many elements of supply chain functionality. 

Why is the recently released White Paper important? 

Our unique focus on the movement of third-party conformity data enabled us to clearly identity several principles. Perhaps the most important of these was the notion that Conformity Assessment Bodies, such as testing laboratories and certification bodies, could act as ‘trust anchors’ for certain product-related data being accessed along supply chains. This shifts the focus away from ‘transferring’ product conformity data along a supply chain (as is generally the case today) towards ‘accessing’ such data directly from its source.   

The publication in August 2023 of the UN/CEFACT White Paper ‘Digital Product Conformity Certificate Exchange’ represented a career highlight for me but, as I have continually stated, no single individual could ever have written this paper since it demanded the combined perspectives of trade, regulatory, legal, conformity and standardisation expertise, which we had been fortunate to gather together.   

The contributors are not ‘resting on our laurels’ though, since we are about to tackle an even more challenging project, which is the application of the ideas expressed in the White Paper for two specific use cases – steel and cotton products – in an attempt to define a Business Requirements Specification that might apply across different types of supply chains. 

I cannot end without gratefully acknowledging the invaluable support for this work by Australia’s Department of Industry Science and Resources, without which this work would not have happened. 

Thank you for your time and insights.