ANSI refers to the American National Standards Institute, a nonprofit organization that defines standards used by businesses. Its role as an independent organization allows it to act, for example, as an intermediary between competitive businesses within an industry to promote standardization that might otherwise not evolve but that is beneficial to consumers. Membership in ANSI is diverse and includes government agencies, private and public businesses, and academic institutions. ANSI represents American interests in the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO.
ANSI coordinates forums focused on a range of interest areas with the goal of identifying if and how standardization may be beneficial and may be implemented in a given area. The interest areas include nanotechnology, health care information technology, identity theft prevention and identity management, and homeland security standards. Each forum has in place a coordinating panel consisting of representatives from interested parties.
Defining standards is useful not only to consumers but also to government agencies. Public policies and laws are written to be well-defined. The widely accepted standards developed through ANSI can be used, for example, to provide very specific definitions in creating governmental policy.
Businesses and other organizations may seek to establish standards where none currently exist. ANSI therefore provides accreditation services. ANSI accreditation indicates that a product, organization or individual has met, or is competent to establish, meaningful requirements in its area of interest.
ANSI publishes articles, guidelines and other types of documents on topics relating to ANSI activities, issues in standardization and specifications of standards. Because ANSI publications on any given topic may represent the consensus of numerous parties, ANSI has developed a set of editorial guidelines for issues, such as style, fact-checking and argumentation. Many ANSI publications are available through the ANSI website.
One of the more widely recognized standards established by ANSI is the ASCII standard. ASCII, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, is a set of standardized codes associated with text and symbols. Standardization is important because different computer operating systems, Internet browsers and productivity software, such as word processing programs and spreadsheets, each must display text, regardless of the source of the text, in such a way that each letter or symbol can be recognized. As an example, the ASCII-defined binary code for a lower-case "s" is “111 0011.” By using that standard definition, various kinds of software can communicate effectively and display information to users in a recognizable form.