Evolving with digital transformation

Interview with Phil Wennblom, new Chair of ISO/IEC JTC 1

Information technology has penetrated our homes, cities and workplaces, as billions of “sensorized” devices and systems that form part of the internet of things (IoT) help to simplify how we work, communicate and carry out daily tasks.

AI robot touching screen
Recent advances in computing have hastened the development of AI technologies

Surrounded by life-changing technology

Advances in digitization, analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation are creating performance and productivity opportunities. They are also redefining how businesses and industries operate, from agriculture, automotive/transportation and energy management, to entertainment, healthcare, manufacturing and retail.

Examples are all around us. Predictive analytics, based on AI machine learning and algorithms, can improve business processes, enhance decision making and enable optimizing and automating decisions, on demand, to meet business goals. Predictive analytics is being applied in a number of areas, including manufacturing for machine maintenance, and healthcare to improve patient care, disease management and hospital administration.

A more obvious form of AI is voice recognition technology, found in virtual personal assistants like Alexa or Siri. These assistants are being built into a growing number of smart devices and changing how we live. Replacing touch with voice, we will start to talk more to our smart appliances and ask them to do things for us, like find a specific TV channel, switch things on and off, and eventually tell the next generation of cars to drive us to our appointments.

Enhancing our world

This technology brings benefits. Voice recognition will make life easier for people living with certain physical disabilities. Additionally, smart devices and systems (heating, lighting) in homes and other buildings already save energy and costs, by automatically adjusting temperatures and lighting, based on the presence or absence of people.

As cars become more connected and autonomous, they will depend greatly on computing technology and contain more software programmes offering services, such as infotainment and road traffic information. Hundreds of sensors will gather huge amounts of data about the immediate surroundings, ultimately enabling cars to communicate with each other and road infrastructure, with the aim of improving vehicle and road safety, as well as congestion.

Where Standards fit in

In order for the different systems and platforms used across all these industries to function smoothly, they will need to ensure data privacy, cyber security and interoperability.

IEC standardization work addresses many of these points. The IEC and ISO Joint Technical Committee (ISO/IEC JTC 1) produces consensus-based International Standards for information and communication technologies (ICT) for business and consumer applications.

It follows IT developments and technology trends, which will need and greatly benefit from standardization. The topics it covers are: AI, automatic identification and data capture techniques, biometrics, cards and personal identification, cloud computing, coding of audio, picture and multimedia information, IoT, IT security techniques, and more.

e-tech catches up with new JTC 1 Chair

Phil Wennblom assumed the role of JTC 1 Chair in January 2018, bringing in-depth knowledge and experience in IT standardization. Currently working as Senior Director of Standards Policy for Intel Corporation, he has also served as Chair of INCITS – the US Technical Advisory Group, which mirrors the work of JTC 1.

What do you hope to achieve?

There is a lot of work to do, but I would highlight three main points:

  1. In order for our experts and national body delegations to productively develop Standards, we in JTC 1 must ensure that the directives, tools and approaches are conducive to their work, so we don’t fall short anywhere.
  2. During the 30 years of JTC 1, IT has changed dramatically. Today IT is being applied in many industry sectors and affects just about everyone, everywhere, in many ways. In JTC 1, we call this the digital transformation phenomenon, and it means we need to think differently about how we develop information technology Standards. It is more important now for us to cooperate with other IEC and ISO technical committees, to support their application of IT in their areas of work. We need to better understand their challenges and explore how we can help them succeed.
  3. Also related to digital transformation, some stakeholders are now more interested in IT standards than when JTC 1 was formed, like governments for whom the standards are very relevant. There is also substantial innovation in applications and services developed entirely in software, and that part of IT is a little less well represented at JTC 1. So it will be important for us to proactively engage with stakeholders who are underrepresented in our process, so that we can develop IT Standards that meet everyone’s needs.

What challenges do you see?

In an era of digital transformation, we need to work more cooperatively with other TCs at IEC and ISO and engage stakeholders who we think should be better represented in our work.

Another ongoing challenge for JTC 1 is to be aware of new trends and developments and be prepared to take appropriate action at the appropriate time. We have an emerging technology and innovations group called JETI, which assesses technology opportunities and proposes actions that JTC 1 should consider, for it to remain relevant also in the future.

What will the hot topics be for 2018?


In 2016 our IoT Working Group became JTC 1 Subcommittee (SC) 41. It’s very active and is part of the foundation of IoT for other sectors, whether automotive, healthcare or even smart cities. So it’s got a tremendous amount of important work to do.

Artificial intelligence

AI has quickly become a hot topic and we just formed JTC 1/SC 42 for AI. Its first meeting is in April and it will be important for this committee to begin its work. AI holds such promise for industry and society, but at the same time, some aspects of it concern people. It’s changing quickly and there’s so much innovation in this space. It would be a shame if regulations were put in place too early, which then reduced the opportunity to benefit from AI. This also means that there’s an opportunity for voluntary standards to help set the norms that we all agree should apply to AI and its applications.

Cyber security

It would be hard to overstate the importance of cyber security. Fortunately this has been a very active area of JTC 1 for many years and it will continue to be one of our hot topics. JTC 1/SC 27, is widely recognized as the best place for the development of International Standards for cyber security. The challenge for this extraordinarily busy group is that there’s so much to do in this area.

If an IoT device isn’t secure, and you don’t feel you can trust it, then it’s not very useful. For cars or medical devices, the threat of being hacked is a concern. That’s why cyber security and IT security need to be the underpinning of everything else.

Finally, even though Standards definitely play a significant role, they are not the total answer. Developers of products and services also have an important responsibility to ensure they incorporate security best practices in design and development.