SMB meeting in Minsk

SMB Chairman shares key decisions and developments

By Gabriela Ehrlich

IEC e-tech talked with James E. Matthews III, IEC Vice-President and Chairman of the Standardization Management Board (SMB) during the General Meeting in Minsk, Belarus. Matthews shared key decisions and why they are needed to ensure IEC relevance in the future.

JIm Matthews, IEC Vice Presidnet and SMB Chai. Jack Sheldon, SMB Secretary James E. Matthews III, IEC Vice-President and Chairman of the SMB (left) and Jack Sheldon, IEC Standardization Strategy Manager and SMB Secretary

Improving speed and effectiveness of work

Currently, progress in the development of International Standards is measured by fixed milestones within fixed time frames and intervals, regardless of size or complexity of the work at hand. Success is expressed by average time to publication. This approach clearly doesn’t take into account difficult situations or differing market needs.

For this reason, the SMB had a look at the structure, processes and activities in standardization work and identified a number of areas that create confusion or slow down standards development. As a result the SMB decided to put in place a project management approach: “We need to work to a plan and deliver to market needs…whether it is in two or four years.”

As part of this effort, the SMB has decided to empower its technical leadership: “A Technical Committee (TC) or Subcommittee (SC) Officer should be able to define and live to a project plan. We will put in place new metrics to measure progress with project milestones in line with stakeholder requirements. We will also provide Officers with tools and training to allow them to develop their own plan to which they will be held accountable. This is a privilege, but also a responsibility and it will be a big change.”

A first workshop will be held jointly with ISO and take place in the March/April 2016 timeframe. The IEC IT department will prepare tools for project planning and project leaders. Training for those is scheduled to take place during the General Meeting in Frankfurt.

Ensuring quality, early on

In an effort to reduce time spent on late corrections, the SMB has decided to bring IEC editors much earlier in closer contact with convenors or project leaders. In the past this contact only happened after the Standard reached a certain threshold generally the Committee Draft for Vote (CDV) stage.  Sometimes this was too late and resulted in a lot of corrective work.

“By encouraging earlier involvement of IEC editing staff, we hope to improve the overall quality of the document and avoid a lot of corrections at the end.” Experts will see projects move faster and requiring fewer changes at a later stage. By implication this will also allow for more flexible opportunities to comment and vote: National Committees (NCs) will be able to provide their inputs earlier. This is of key importance since NCs – especially P-members - are normally required to provide technical comments at the Committee Draft (CD) stage and not wait until the CDV.

“With this approach we should be able to gain three to five months and build improved quality from the start into the standards development process.” 

Satisfy urgent needs, faster

The SMB also decided to shorten voting and commenting times. Normally a new work proposal (NP) circulates 12 weeks. Now an optional work proposal with an outline will benefit from a shortened four weeks circulation. “This allows us to be more reactive to urgent stakeholder needs”.

After a successful trial period, the circulation time of the CDV has been set at 12 weeks, down from five months. “Nobody is anymore using a five month period, that’s why we took this option away.”

The FDIS voting period has also been shortened from eight to six weeks.

All of these activities are intended to improve the speed of the process and to deliver work in line with stakeholder expectations.

New approaches needed

Some technology areas require standardization products that can be developed much faster than a full International Standard but still offer reasonable value to the community. The SMB is now looking at new ways to offer such deliverables and – through a rebranding effort – overcome the stigma that was associated with a Publicly Available Specification (PAS), which sometimes lacked in quality or Technical Specification (TS) which was historically seen as a failed Standard. To be followed…

Disruptive technologies

New technologies can affect the work of more traditional TCs, including in highly regulated areas such as healthcare. Here, the SMB agreed to set up an ad hoc group (ahG) to explore how established TCs can better embrace and adapt to disruptive technologies which enter their field of activity.

What language will do?

Translations are widely used by many countries as a way to ensure stakeholder involvement, encourage commenting and the adoption and use of Standards. Such translations require on average two months between CD and CDV stage.

In the past it was assumed that translation was only necessary for the French language. Therefore - the assumption went - if French were not needed, then the Standard could be published nearly immediately and 60 days could be saved. Clearly this reasoning overlooks that the whole community needs time for translations. 

Furthermore, the current text of the Statutes and Rules of Procedure concerning the use of languages in the IEC, particularly in meetings, and the implied requirement that the IEC publishes all documents in English, French and Russian, no longer reflects reality. Which language version should be considered the reference version when there are several translations within the same language, for example in Spanish. The SMB recommends that a definitive language of development is designated for each publication. This version would remain the reference.

Reduce differences 

Today, as many as 70% of European Standards are identical to IEC International Standards; but many more could be. To try to achieve greater alignment and involve the IEC earlier in European standards work, an ad hoc group has been established to examine the areas where there are CENELEC standards but no corresponding IEC International Standards. There are also ongoing discussions between CENELEC and the IEC leadership to improve communication and response to new work proposals in both organizations. This approach should allow for the correct implementation of the Dresden Agreement, which has been put in place to encourage preference of International Standards over regional or national ones.

The other side of the coin

The IEC writes many Standards that are then used to test and verify devices and systems. However, sometimes Standards need to be modified to make them more useful in conformity assessment and for that industry feedback is crucial. This feedback loop is well established between TC 31 and IECEx, for example, but it isn't as well defined in other cases. For exactly that reason SMB and CAB have decided to set up ahG 63 which will look at how to better support industry participation in feedback loops from conformity assessment to standards development.

Collaboration with others

As part of the systems approach but also elsewhere, the IEC continues to engage and work with many different organizations to bring on board diverse expertise. In this context the IEC has started to exchange information about new work with IEEE, for them to share internally in the IEEE community. The aim is to encourage joint development of Standards and possibly adoption of existing work. This would allow both organizations to make best use of finite resources and reduce duplication and waste.

Other business

During the course of the day in Minsk the SMB approved 66 reports of TCs and SCs, validated the use of Vice-Chairs in Technical Committees and eliminated some historical black-out periods for commenting and voting.

The SMB will meet next time on 23 February 2016 in Geneva.

strategy Allow TC and SC Officers to define and live to their project plan
Efficiency Ensure quality, early on
JIm Matthews, IEC Vice Presidnet and SMB Chai. Jack Sheldon, SMB Secretary James E. Matthews III, IEC Vice-President and Chairman of the SMB (left) and Jack Sheldon, IEC Standardization Strategy Manager and SMB Secretary