SMB review and focus

e-tech interview with Jim Matthews on SMB activities and decisions

By Gabriela Ehrlich

IEC e-tech talked to James E. Matthews III, IEC Vice-President and Chairman of the SMB (Standardization Management Board) during the General Meeting in Delhi, India. Matthews outlined on-going activities and special initiatives that aim to improve IEC work and efficiency as well as provide the tools and processes that are needed going forward.

IEC Vice-President Jim Matthews at the 2013 General Meeting in Delhi, India

Systems approach now live

After reporting on the systems approach last year, the SMB has since undertaken many of the necessary steps to activate the first SEGs (Systems Evaluation Groups). There are currently two ways in which SEGs are created. One involves the transformation of an existing body, such as SG (Strategic Group) 3: Smart Grid into a SEG, the first of its kind.

The second is for a SEG to be established from scratch. Such is the case with the SEG on Smart Cities, which is currently working on identifying the many electrotechnical systems that are found in cities, with a view of integrating and optimizing them. This is a big challenge involving many different issues and technologies, ultimately requiring the cooperation of a large number of different organizations.

The Smart Cities Group is currently preparing a reference architecture and standardization roadmap in cooperation with different organizations, fora and consortia. As part of its activities it will start by mapping interrelated activities, identifying opportunities and linking them to relevant technologies.

Applied systems approach

An instrument that is able to clearly demonstrate the value of the systems approach is the newly launched IEC Smart Grid MappingTool. A beta version is available free of charge. The tool addresses user needs by identifying the entire Smart Grid system and its many parts, demonstrating use cases and making it easy to find relevant standards. This is particularly interesting because it not only covers IEC International Standards but also those of many other organizations. This approach has fantastic potential, in that it can be multiplied and applied in different ways across the many IEC systems activities. It is a really great way to bring needed standards a lot closer to users.

Efficiency of strategic groups

Another area that requires close attention of the SMB is the current state and performance of its SGs (Strategic Groups). The SMB has put in place a formal review process with a structured set of questions that enables it to assess what a given SG is accomplishing, as well as what it needs in terms of resources and capabilities to achieve what it has set out to do. As a result of this review process, the SMB may sometimes decide to terminate or modify the set-up of a given group. For example SG 1: Electrical energy efficiency was replaced by an advisory committee on energy efficiency; SG 2: Ultrahigh voltage technologies ceased operations once its mission was completed. The group recommended the creation of the new TC 122 (created in October in New Delhi) on UHV AC (Ultra High Voltage Alternating Current) to complement the one on UHV DC (Ultra High Voltage Direct Current) that already existed. A lot of work is being accomplished on UHV AC in countries such as China, Japan, India and Brazil, to name but a few. UHV AC and DC technologies allow for the efficient transportation of electricity generated from water, wind, solar power or more conventional means over many thousands of kilometres to the population centres where it is consumed.

Energy efficiency, datacentres and more

During the General Meeting in New Delhi, the SMB reviewed three SGs for their activities and work processes:

SG 4: LVDC (Low Voltage Direct Current) initially focused on datacentres and DC applications that are promising to revolutionize this business area, which is where the market is developing right now. The SMB now encourages SG 4 to look at markets and opportunities that will serve future needs, including for example increased energy efficiency and other areas where DC electricity can play a major role in bringing about fundamental changes. Over the coming months SG 4 will develop a roadmap that will provide insights into some of these emerging markets. This will allow the SMB to decide how to position the IEC and whether to put in place a SEG or other tools.

Independent for longer

SG 5: AAL (Ambient Assisted Living). This SG covers all technologies that will help us grow older and continue to age well at home. This is a growing market and is relevant for many, not just the disabled. Today AAL covers simple things such as for example an iPhone app that measures your heart rate if you have a cardiac problem. Rather than being tied to a heavy duty monitor, you are able to use this app on the go to check your heart rate and measure your pulse. If you feel unwell, you can record the episode and mail it to your doctor. This facilitates diagnosis and ultimately treatment. It is low cost and non-intrusive. Of course AAL also comprises complex devices and treatments that address more severe health conditions. Simply put, in the future AAL will provide assistance anywhere from low to high level through robotic and other tools and devices.

SG 5: AAL held a very successful conference in New Zealand in the spring and has now completed a roadmap and a number of strategic activities. The group is reviewing existing standards and use cases and is evaluating whether those are sufficient, identifying gaps. Particular needs in this area include for example data security: how to protect data that is collected, who should see it or be able to retrieve it. SG 5 is already working closely with fora and consortia. It has made some good progress and will probably transform into a SEG within the next year.

Sustainable transportation

SG 6 on electromobility is growing in importance, in pace with the sector and related technologies. People are open to new ways of transportation and as a result the number of EVs and charging stations is increasing. SG 6 is tasked with identifying the challenges that come with this new technology. For example, how to make charging centres accessible to different types of users; how to mitigate the grid impact of simultaneous EV charging; identify strategies and technologies that are able to address range anxiety, etc. In this context, TC 113: Nanotechnology reported to the SMB about their work on batteries but also other areas. Nanotech may enable the next breakthrough in batteries and the SMB is exploring how nanotech as a whole will impact IEC work.

In the near future, SG 6 will probably move from an SG to a SEG in close liaison with those on smart cities and the smart grid.

Cooperation beyond the IEC

With regard to outside organizations, and in particular ISO and ITU-T, the SMB continues to take a pro-active approach, ensuring that where there are issues they are identified, discussed, communicated and hopefully resolved. We have obviously some challenges when groups of people work on the same things as others, but we continue to actively manage this to avoid that it becomes a divisive issue.

Another organization with which we cooperate regularly is IEEE. We are doing some good work together but I believe we could and should do more. The SMB is trying to help IEC and IEEE experts to better understand the joint-development process so as to encourage much more collaboration in all areas where the two organizations are clearly complementary.

From strategy to implementation

In the context of the Masterplan, the SMB has put in place ahGs (adhoc Groups) with the task of identifying all areas for which implementation is under the direct responsibility of the SMB. The findings were reviewed by the ExCo (Executive Committee) and the CB (Council Board) and as a result three groups where chartered and asked to come up with recommendations for three different areas. After a year of work, recommendations of two of the groups have been received and the third one will present theirs at the February SMB meeting.

Building bridges

ahG 41: New technologies, led by Christina Timo, Italy developed some good recommendations on how to bridge to Academia and capture new technologies at a level that is appropriate for the SMB. This is an area that will require close coordination with the MSB (Market Strategy Board) on their future and technology watch. The recommendations put forward by ahG 41 will require an investment of funds and resources. As a next step the SMB will evaluate what is feasible, potential alternatives and determine the overall timeframe. Implementation will be handled in collaboration with the MSB.

Breaking silos

ahG 40: Enhanced cooperation between TCs, led by Shuji Hirakawa, Japan, was tasked with looking at ways to improve work and cooperation between different TCs. Many TCs function very well as long as experts are able to work on activities in their area. They are able to move forward with technologies as they evolve but their overall work remains mostly within the boundaries of their area of expertise. When technologies fall between two groups or involve several groups, cooperation can sometimes become challenging. However, in many areas the convergence of technologies is the future and close collaboration will become the rule, not the exception.

ahG 40 has come up with a series of recommendations that are intended to address and enhance ways for TCs to communicate and to work with each other. This includes everything from liaisons to working practices and more. The report was a good summary and the SMB asked the group to include the details that were left out of the report but that are needed to translate some of the recommendations into actions that can be implemented.

Increasing participation

ahG 39: Stakeholder influence, led by Paul van den Braak, Netherlands will be presenting their recommendations at the February SMB meeting. This group is focusing on how to get more people to participate in IEC work; basically how to get people’s managers to say “OK you can go to this meeting”, or “yes, it is worthwhile for us to be in the IEC”. In essence: there is a need to motivate the decision makers that allocate resources, budget and time to allow experts to participate in IEC meetings. The “older” professionals have the know-how to achieve this, but it is essential to provide tools to the younger professionals to help them communicate with their supervisors.

In Delhi the SMB formed the new ahG 49: Industry 4.0. The next generation of industry and manufacturing is expected to influence IEC work in the coming years. The Group is to study the impact of new technologies in this area and formulate recommendations in a report due in June 2014.

Time to think

During the February and June meetings the SMB is aiming to put in place an extra block of time for informal discussions between the members of the Chairman’s Advisory group. This approach allows for deeper strategic discussions outside of the formal SMB meetings, which have a very full agenda with typically more than 90 documents.

During these more relaxed discussions we are able to review aspects of the technical programme and the performance of the work the IEC is accomplishing. The Chairman Advisory group stimulates new ideas, and allows for in-depth exchanges.

Efficient meetings at a lower cost

One of the questions that resulted from recent discussions was how to make meetings more affordable for some of the TCs. It started with the observation that meetings can cost a lot of money, especially when they include social events. Today fewer and fewer people have the money and resources to organize such meetings. We came up with a plan to put together a listing of meeting spaces that TC secretaries can book. The meeting host would provide a good space for the meeting with all the basic infrastructure and facilities but there wouldn’t be any social activities associated with them - after all we are in business. However, if people want to self-organize social activities they can still do so. With this approach we aim to keep the cost of an IEC meeting within reason, finding the balance between work and cost. A concrete proposal is now being prepared for the next SMB meeting.

Measuring performance, setting up new structures

Every year the SMB assesses the performance of Technical Committees. To do so we have put in place key measures that allow us to evaluate how a given TC is doing in terms of number of P-Members, frequency of meetings/time since the last meeting, number of work projects, number of active experts and so on. The SMB performance review is really paying off in that it allows us to identify who is struggling and at the same time it raises the bar for others. By inviting TCs to present their work to the SMB we learn from best practices and can share that further.

For example we recently found that we had two TCs where the SCs (subcommittees) where acting autonomously but the TC itself had not met for many years. This is not the model we like to see. We want TCs that are alive and that provide guidance with regard to strategy and work areas. As a result of this review the SMB decided to form the new TC 121: Switchgear and Control Gear and assemblies for Low Voltage with two of the original SCs and combined the remaining two SCs to rebuild TC 17 into a vibrant and active working committee. The subcommittees of TC 32 have decided to restart their parent TC as a result of this action as well.

Keeping a finger on the pulse

The SMB reviews and reads all submitted reports. We follow-through, ask for updates and corrections where needed. We also help TCs to sort out conflicts related to scopes and responsibilities, providing them with specific directions.

The SMB is actively managing IEC technical work. We are looking at new technologies and trying to evolve the IEC into the systems world of things.

DSC_1169 IEC Vice-President Jim Matthews at the 2013 General Meeting in Delhi, India
teamwork SMB works on initiatives that aim to improve IEC work and efficiency
mapping_tool The newly launched IEC Smart Grid Mapping Tool clearly demonstrates the value of the systems approach