Focusing on the future

By Philippa Martin-King

CANENA, the Council for the Harmonization of Electrotechnical Standards of the Nations of the Americas, held its annual meeting on 2-3 March 2011 in San Antonio, Texas, US (United States).

The IEC Young Professionals' Programme. The IEC Young Professionals' Programme.

CANENA – a forum for harmonization discussions

Founded in 1992, CANENA aims to foster the harmonization of electrotechnical product standards, CA (Conformity Assessment) test requirements, and electrical codes among all democracies of the Western Hemisphere. CANENA is not a standards developing organization but provides a forum for harmonization discussions among its various organizations, manufacturers, CA bodies and individual participants that make up its membership.

The annual meeting was an opportunity for attendees to discuss best practices, energy efficiency harmonization and some of the present major standardization activities in the various member regions.

IEC activities key to industry and Conformity Assessment

Former IEC Vice-President Frank Kitzantides provided an update on some of the key topics and activities of the IEC, underlining how the International Standards needed by industry are now produced in an average of 30 months. Speeding up the process even further, he said, "so as to accommodate for the needs of fast-moving markets, the IEC works with all relevant organizations to bring de facto industry standards into the worldwide consensus process."

Kitzantides explained how the IEC CA Systems were also growing in parallel with the standardization activities and how more countries and laboratories were joining and participating in the scheme.

New partnerships

Increasingly, the IEC is also engaging with new partners in specific areas to increase the efficiency and awareness of its work. "In October 2010", he said, "the IEC signed a tripartite agreement with the IAF (International Accreditation Forum) and ILAC (International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation). The aim of this agreement is to further increase the efficiency of IEC Conformity Assessment Systems while helping testing laboratories to save time and money."

Energy efficiency – the IEC white paper

Following the publication of its white paper addressing the global Energy Challenge, the IEC had begun negotiations for cooperation with the IEA (International Energy Agency),” Kitzantides said. "The aim of the cooperation with the IEA is to link the IEC MSB (Market Strategy Board) recommendations directly to concrete IEA work. In this context, the IEC will bring on board its solid technical know-how to ensure global interoperability and compatibility of systems and devices." Explaining how energy efficiency and an intelligent use of electrical energy were key focuses for the coming years, he continued, "The scope of the MSB white paper is exceptional as this is the first report that looks at the whole energy chain and pinpoints what needs to be altered to achieve ambitious carbon emissions targets of 20 % by 2020."

Smart Grids

Kitzantides cited the Smart Grid as another important area of IEC work. "Smart Grids are being built everywhere right now,” he said. “National and regional grids will need to be able to communicate with each other across borders and even continents, so the need for standards is largely understood."

He explained how this context had given rise to the IEC's Smart Grid roadmap, which was being adopted by many others as the basis for their own, together with the great number of IEC technical standards needed to update legacy infrastructures. As an example of this, he mentioned the US. "The IEC cooperates closely with NIST, the US National Institute for Standards, and the first five foundational standards that have been approved for the US Smart Grid are all IEC International Standards."

A need to increase the understanding of the value of standards

At present, while there is certainly understanding of the value of standards, no ensured, systematic approach exists to increase future participation in the standardization process. Few business schools include standardization in their curricula, and many business leaders are disinclined to include the cost of sending experts to participate in development work in their budgets.

IEC Young Professionals' Programme

Kitzantides outlined the IEC's Young Professionals' Programme, a focused effort to involve tomorrow's experts in the world of standardization early on in their career. "At the IEC we believe it is important to build up the next generation of standards professionals and support young engineers, technicians and managers to raise their understanding of and interest in standardization and Conformity Assessment,” he said. “That’s why we have put in place the Young Professionals’ Programme."

The programme offers participants an international networking platform where they can meet other young professionals and exchange ideas. It provides them with the opportunity to get involved in shaping the future of international standardization and CA.

Kitzantides explained how some IEC NCs (National Committees) were now using the Young Professionals' Programme as a marketing tool to promote their own work and encourage industry participation. "They recognize the need to start their succession planning now," he said, "preparing the national experts and leaders of tomorrow, so that their country continues to have its say in the international arena in the years to come. We hope many more countries will follow their lead."

IEC Global Visions

There are cases where CEOs of leading companies have understood the competitive advantage of participating in the standardization process, and the IEC has recorded testimonies to this effect. Kitzantides showed attendees at CANENA extracts from the IEC Global Visions series of videos where leading executives talk of their conviction, both financially and technically, as to the benefits of being a part of the process.

"There is an increasing body of evidence that in an era of shrinking product development cycles, participation in standard setting can translate into a significant competitive advantage,” said Kitzantides. “International standards increasingly dictate access to global markets and enable companies to build products that are accepted worldwide. CEOs of companies who already participate in standardization work understand this."

CANENA is a volunteer based organization CANENA is a volunteer based organization
Former IEC Vice-President, Frank Kitzantides. Former IEC Vice-President, Frank Kitzantides.
The IEC Young Professionals' Programme. The IEC Young Professionals' Programme.