Looking to the future

An overview of the Market Strategy Board’s hot topics for 2019

It is a generally accepted notion that we are living in times of rapid change. If, to paraphrase Heraclitus, change is the only constant, then organizations must anticipate areas of possible change and prepare themselves accordingly.

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The Market Strategy Board (MSB) has been set up to identify key technology trends and market needs in the areas of IEC work

Within the IEC, the Market Strategy Board (MSB) has been set up to identify key technology trends and market needs in the areas of IEC work. Comprised of high-level industry leaders and IEC officers, the MSB offers strategies to help guide long-term IEC activities. It provides recommendations to the IEC on the areas that could trigger possible disruptions but also offer opportunities to the IEC in the future.

To better understand some of the key topics this year, e-tech spoke with Peter Lanctot who serves as Secretary to the board.

A new type of resilience

Hurricanes, heat waves and flooding are some of the extreme weather events occurring with increased frequency. The impact on the delivery of electricity can be devastating with blackouts affecting millions of people. As a result, Lanctot notes that "a new type of resiliency for utilities is needed to cope with the resulting effects of climate change".

Resiliency refers to the characteristics of an electrical system to recover its operations. It is the ability to avoid or minimize disruptions to the grid after an extreme weather happening. This can be achieved by, for example, splitting networks into smaller circuits or deploying intelligent switches that can detect a short circuit, block power flows to that area and reroute the electricity so users do not lose access.

According to Lanctot, MSB members will tackle the issue of resiliency for utilities. "Legacy grid equipment is at risk as we face more extreme storms and temperatures. It is necessary to make the electricity distribution systems more climate-resilient and this could include an overhaul of standards".

Digital transformation

Digital transformation is the integration of digital technologies into organizational processes and competencies. It encompasses artificial intelligence, data management and smart systems. Given its importance, the MSB will be publishing a White Paper in October 2019 on the topic of ontologies and the semantic web in the digital transformation age.

According to Lanctot, "MSB members agree that artificial intelligence is the next phase of innovation and will cause long term disruption to market and technology". For the IEC, areas of future work could include the development of standards that can mitigate the impact of potential biases resulting from algorithms.

Data is an important feature of the digital transformation, especially as it becomes increasingly easy and cheap to collect and store. However, this raises questions regarding data access, management, ownership and protection. Lanctot notes that "data allows for ‘smartness’ - such as smart energy, smart cities, AAL, smart manufacturing – but how do we use the data that come out of these systems? The IEC is well positioned to find a common ground on these questions. With the digitalization of the economy, the IEC can help to define a standard for the usage of data".

Within smart systems, the MSB will examine the integration of people, smart devices and machines. This can also include digital twinning which, according to Lanctot, "will become a business imperative and serve as the foundation for connecting products and services between the physical and virtual worlds".

Maintaining safety

Safety is one of the core remits of the IEC beginning with standards which have enabled the safe transmission and delivery of electricity. As new technologies are introduced, the IEC develops standards to ensure that users are safe.

The MSB has identified two technologies where safety is an area for further study: artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT). Questions raised within the MSB include how to maintain current levels of safety with IoT devices and how to guarantee the safety of home appliances as these increasingly rely on autonomous decision-making. "Specifically, the MSB would like to examine the impact of machine learning on functional safety".

Related to safety, cyber security is an increasing threat to organizations and individuals. This is another area of focus especially since, as Lanctot notes, "more systems are becoming data driven and therefore more vulnerable. Standards can provide solutions". With the massive proliferation of IoT devices, security questions regarding hacking, data management and privacy are emerging. The MSB has also raised the issue of upgrading firmware on IoT devices and how to ensure that it is implemented securely.

Lanctot also remarks that while the IEC is well-positioned to bring together the various stakeholders to discuss solutions for safety and security, not all participants may have benign intentions. "How do we control who joins the discussions on topics such as security? And, if some of the participants are not responsible, they will nonetheless retain the keys to the functioning of the security system". Guiding stakeholder participation and responsibility could be an area that the IEC will need to address.

Risk management has also been raised as a potential topic of further study. According to Lanctot, regulators are keen to implement risk management solutions for basic safety features. However, the question remains how it can be best used and integrated. Working with regulators will also become an area of increased focus. "Every country has its own rules and regulations but there are some commonalities. I think that in 2019, regulations will become one of the topics that the MSB looks at more deeply".

Future trends to follow

Robotics in the service industry and battery-propelled jet airplanes are two topics that will be on the MSB agenda for discussion and likely to become areas of interest in the next few years.

"A recurring topic is robotics and how it will affect the service industry. We already have robots making drinks for us at the bar, but what about in places with lots of people, like on cruise ships, where there is more of a social atmosphere?" Questions remain on whether robot assistants will be deemed sufficiently useful and an acceptable alternative to human personnel.

While the electrification of cars and buses has begun, many issues constrain the development of electronic airplanes such as the weight and space requirements of batteries that will be used for propulsion. However, as Lanctot notes, "it’s an area where the IEC has a lot of knowledge. It is something to look at a little further as a new opportunity for the IEC". He has been tracking industry activities and has observed that "companies and universities are starting to look into this issue even though it is a little outside of the box".