IEC-IEEE Challenge winners' insights

Winners honoured at ceremony in Oslo during IEC General Meeting

By Janice Blondeau

The winning papers in the IEC-IEEE Challenge bring insights into the benefits of standards and standardization, from perspectives which range from cloud computing, to the German electricity and electronic industry, to the digital divide.

Ben Johnson, IEEE, Axel Mangelsdorf, Ken Krechmer, Joyce van de Vegte and Jacques Régis, IEC Ben Johnson, IEEE, Axel Mangelsdorf, Ken Krechmer, Joyce van de Vegte and Jacques Régis, IEC

Role of standardization in development

Winners were honoured at an award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, during the IEC General Meeting last month.  With the IEC-IEEE Challenge, IEC partnered with IEEE, the world's largest professional organization advancing technology for humanity, to seek publications that question the perception of electrotechnology, the role technology plays in development and how universal standards influence this process. The theme, “How does electrotechnology impact economic, social and environmental development?” attracted high-level submissions from universities globally.

Ken Krechmer awarded IEC-IEEE Challenge first prize

The IEC-IEEE Challenge first prize and USD 20 000 was awarded to Ken Krechmer from the University of Colorado, USA, for his paper: Cloud computing standardization, which addresses how cloud computing promises to dramatically simplify the development and deployment of new economic, social and environmental applications. Standardization of the cloud computing building blocks and interfaces is vital to establishing multi-national markets and to balance the vendor's desire for commercial gain with the public's desire for open interfaces. Commercial gain and open interfaces need not be opposing goals. Krechmer’s paper develops how the standards for these building blocks and interfaces may be designed to maximize both goals.

A lecturer at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he has also taught a graduate engineering course on the theory of standards, Ken Krechmer is no stranger to the winners circle when it comes to standardization paper competitions. In 2006 he received joint second prize in the IEC Centenary Challenge paper competition, and in 1995 and 2000 he won first prize in the World Standards Day paper competition. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and a Member of The Society for Standards Professionals. Ken came upon standardization at the end of the 1960s and start of the 1970s and in his words, he has “been hooked ever since.”

Moving from compatible to adaptable standards

"Standardization was probably something that was of interest to me from a very young age…I was always looking to see ‘what was the reference?’ I’ve studied standardization from the historical, economic, mathematical, and the electronics viewpoint – it’s amazing the number of different fields that are directly relevant to standards and standardization. What I’d like to see ultimately is that the major standards organizations focus not on compatibility but what I call adaptability – negotiating how to be compatible."

For cloud computing, Krechmer suggests that it’s more a matter of standardization enabling systems rather than enabling one competing technology or another.

"Once we have programmable interfaces, where everything is changeable, we no longer have to specify what’s compatible; we merely have to specify a way to negotiate what’s compatible. Little and big companies can then compete on a level playing field if they have a better idea. The idea that standards are evolutionary is highly powerful. We are moving away from compatibility standards towards adaptability standards. This is very much in the same way that we have evolved from similarity standards to compatibility standards in the information age."

Standardization's benefits to German electrical industry

Second prize and USD 15 000 was awarded to Axel Mangelsdorf from the BAM (Federal Institute of Materials Research and Testing), Berlin, Germany [1], for his paper: The benefits of standards and standardization in the German electrical and electronic industry. Knut Blind, Chair of Innovation Economics, Technical University Berlin, Germany [2], is co-author of this paper. They present a study conducted with 170 companies in Germany. The paper explores how active participation in the standard setting process changes the perception of the strategic value of standards and the real benefits for companies. Based on this research, Mangelsdorf and Blind recommend implementation of a high-capacity, web-based portal to increase companies’ participation in standardization processes and to encourage wider standards dissemination. Standards support technological change, impact safety and the environment, and facilitate access to global markets for new products and services. Interoperability standards allow devices from different manufacturers to connect and thereby stimulate economic development.

Axel Mangelsdorf studied economics in Berlin and Montreal. From 2008 to 2010 he was a researcher within the HARTING Graduate Programme “Mittelstand und Innovation” at the TU Berlin (Berlin University of Technology) from where he received his doctorate with honours in fall 2010. Axel Mangelsdorf was a consultant at the World Bank and the World Trade Organization where he worked on TBT (Technical Barriers to Trade) activities. He has worked as a research assistant at the BAM since 2011, where he deals with economic aspects of the national quality infrastructure.

"When I heard about the IEC-IEEE Challenge and looked at the webpage, there were already some papers uploaded. Everything sounded very complicated and very complex. I thought that with our paper on how to use standards and what their impact is, we won’t have a chance – and we got the second prize."

Mangelsdorf is keen to educate students on the subject and he is supervising several Bachelor and Masters students who are preparing theses on standardization. With several colleagues, he presents lectures on strategic standardization to engineering, economics and business students as part of a lecture series within Knut Blind’s Chair of Innovation Economics.

"People don’t know what they’ll get when they hear a lecture on standards and standardization, but after a while they see that standards are everywhere, they are so important."

Bridging the digital divide via international standards

The third prize and USD 10 000 was awarded to Joyce van de Vegte from Camosun College, Canada, for her paper: Bridging the divide with a three-way handshake. The paper discusses how historical differences in the access to personal computers triggered a “digital divide” between those who benefit from the Internet and those who do not. The divide encompasses many dimensions – economy, education, health, information – and has tangible effects on human development. The adoption of global Internet standards based on TCP/IP helped narrow the digital divide, and the author demonstrates how Internet standards help bridge other divides as well, improving equity in the economy, education, health, and communication. Van de Vegte states that the benefits of the Internet are still unavailable to many due to language barriers, and that translation will be the next frontier. Robust standards for translations between pairs of languages could produce a seamlessly international Internet, preserving diverse cultural content while offering an increasingly level playing field to all.

Joyce van de Vegte completed her B.A.Sc. in Engineering Science in 1985 and her M.A.Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 1988, both at the University of Toronto. She worked at the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine for six years, where her research focused on speech recognition and image processing. Now in the Electronics & Computer Engineering Technology department at Camosun College in Canada, Joyce’s teaching areas include digital signal processing, renewable energies and system dynamics. She is also the coordinator of the Engineering Bridge programs. Joyce has a strong interest in internationalization and has taken teaching assignments at the Shan Dong University of Technology in China, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology in Thailand, and the Da Nang University of Technology in Vietnam. She recently completed a certificate in international education with the University of British Columbia, and is engaged in the development of intercultural engineering resources.

Standards advance social and economic development

“I only learned about the IEC-IEEE Challenge two weeks before the deadline to submit abstracts. What really intrigued me was the focus on the development side. I really feel that engineers can make great contributions to different contexts, in support of projects in other parts of the world."

"The question I asked myself was – “Do standards make a significant contribution to the pace of development and in what way can we contribute?” – partly because I wanted to know the answer. I decided to look at Internet standards in particular as in many places, these can be a vehicle for development. It was quite exciting to uncover – the more I learned, the more I could see exactly how standards can and do contribute in a fundamental way. For example, in the countries where language supports have recently been put in place, the use of the Internet has grown by 1000s of percent…so that to me is a very powerful thing to note. There’s more parity to Internet use, so more access to health information and more access to educational resources."

The publications were judged by a distinguished panel: IEC Immediate Past President Jacques Régis, former CEO of Hydro Quebec, Montréal; Dr Moshe Kam, 2011 IEEE President, and Department Head, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Drexel University; and Paul Markillie, Innovation Editor at The Economist.

1. Dr Mangelsdorf is also affiliated with the Technical University Berlin, Chair of Innovation Economics, Germany. 
2. Prof Blind is also affiliated with the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems (FOKUS), Germany and the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Department of Management of Technology and Innovation, The Netherlands.

Ben Johnson, IEEE, Axel Mangelsdorf, Ken Krechmer, Joyce van de Vegte and Jacques Régis, IEC Ben Johnson, IEEE, Axel Mangelsdorf, Ken Krechmer, Joyce van de Vegte and Jacques Régis, IEC
Jacques Régis and Ken Krechmer Jacques Régis and Ken Krechmer
The IEC and IEEE sought papers that challenge the perception of electrotechnology The IEC and IEEE sought papers that challenge the perception of electrotechnology