Standards Development and SMEs

BSI is the UK’s National Standards Body (NSB). It works with industries, businesses, governments and consumers, to develop British, European and international standards.

Formed as the British Standards Institution – the world’s first standards body – it is now a global business operating in 172 countries.

Within its role as the UK’s NSB, BSI had tended to work more with large organisations than with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Since 2013, however, BSI has been exploring ways in which to help SMEs become more profitable, innovative and competitive.

This has been driven both by BSI’s own, long-term, business strategy and by the 2012 European Standardisation Regulation (EU) No 1025/20; Article 6 of which requires NSBs to “encourage and facilitate the access of SMEs to standards and standards development processes”.

Some of BSI’s first steps in that journey were to:

  • Put in place an SME Forum – so as to engage on strategic and policy issues
  • Seek to better understand the SME ‘landscape’ in the UK – by commissioning, from Marketwise Strategies
    • macro-level research
    • research among SMEs in specific sectors.

How we helped

Designing the study

BSI approached us for:

  • A macro level analysis of the Rear Car Light
    UK SME population
  • Research among a sample of SMEs in six sectors (Aerospace, Automotives, Construction, Food, Healthcare and ICT), so as to understand:
    • the issues that they faced
    • implications for standards development, adoption and implementation.

This followed earlier research for BSI, to inform standards development for SMEs that work with emerging technologies.

Marketwise Strategies worked with BSI to develop a robust, two-stage project involving desk, qualitative and quantitative research.

Desk research and macro-level analysis

This first stage of research involved:

  • An in-depth review of UK data describing the SME population
  • Separate investigations into the Aerospace, Automotive, Construction, Food, Healthcare and ICT sectors;
    • exploring factors such as sector structure, revenue, labour force, exporting, supply chains, challenges and innovation;
    • producing a detailed assessment of strengths, trends and key developments within each sector.

Insights from Stage One then helped to shape the research among SMEs, that followed.

Primary research across six sectors

At Stage Two we:

  • Focused solely upon  SMEs
    • in BSI’s six sectors of interest (Aerospace, Automotives, Construction, Food, Healthcare, and ICT)
    • in sub-sectors that were growing or had the potential to grow
  • Conducted depth interviews with 8 SMEs per sector (face to face and telephone)
  • Surveyed 600 SMEs by telephone – across a range of size bands and locations.

Topics included:

  • The issues that SMEs faced within their markets and industries
  • SMEs’ adoption and use of standards – including exploring their past experiences of standards and what barriers they felt existed
  • Any sectors in which using standards was particularly challenging – and the reasons why
  • Anything that made it difficult for SMEs to become involved in developing standards
  • What SMEs would require from BSI in the future.

The interviewees were senior decision makers and others with responsibility for standards and operating procedures.


The project lasted several months and was reported upon in stages. Upon completion, we presented findings from the project as whole to a team that included BSI’s Director of Standards.

Our reports have since been published by BSI and have been distributed widely; including to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, other senior contacts in Whitehall, and a number of UK universities that are leaders in working with advanced manufacturing.

Internationally, the research has been disseminated among other National Standards Bodies and to the European Committee for Standardization (CEN). Copies of the Stage 1 and Stage 2 research reports are also available on BSI’s website.


The research is now informing:

(i) BSI’s approach to engaging with SMEs in each of the six sectors; and

(ii) the ways in which BSI encourages and facilitates SMEs to access standards and to become involved in their development.

Significantly, it has also helped to inform a major assessment of the economic benefits of standards, for SMEs, which was undertaken by Cebr and was funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

We expect to use this research again and again, over quite a long period of time; we expect it still to be relevant in three years and, probably, five years. It’s incredibly useful to be able to keep referring back to it, as part of a body of evidence that we are developing.

Marketwise Strategies has a great consultative approach. Because of the way that you advised us from the start, the research had a strong methodology, covered a lot of ground and gave us something that is statistically significant. We can confidently say, “This is the case in this sector” and “these are the facts”.

We felt that we were in a safe pair of hands and it was absolutely clear that you wanted to deliver a really powerful piece of research for us – and felt as excited as we did about doing it.

You were passionate about it and we never thought that you were prepared to compromise on quality. Before we’d even say, “Are we doing enough here?” I think you’d probably be coming back and saying, “We need to do more here” or “we need to change this” or “we need to beef this up”.

It was a very pleasurable experience working with you, because you very clearly got what we were trying to do.

— Jim Shuker, Head of Strategic Engagement, BSI