IEC prepares for the future

MSB seminar to examine innovation, IIoT and resilience

In a city famous for its honking horns and yellow cabs, it is hard to imagine that horse drawn carriages were once the most common form of transportation in New York City. Two images of Fifth Avenue, taken only thirteen years apart, demonstrate the speed of the transformation: in 1900, the street was filled with carriages pulled by horses and in 1913, the horses had been replaced by automobiles. Innovation and change happen for a myriad of reasons, as Henry Ford can attest, but result in bankruptcy for those, like the horse industry, that are not prepared.

Organizations, factories and critical infrastructure must be protected against cyber attacks (Photo:

Keeping pace with market trends is no easy feat given the unrelenting speed of change. And turning market disruptions into new opportunities becomes essential in a competitive global environment. To help guide the future work of IEC, the Market Strategy Board (MSB) has been set up to help identify key technology trends and market needs in the areas of IEC standardization and conformity assessment activities.

At the IEC General Meeting in Shanghai, the MSB will host a seminar delving into three topics considered as potential opportunities, threats and/or disruptions to the IEC. Peter Lanctot, Secretary of the MSB, provides an overview of what to expect at the seminar this year.

2030 and the IEC: enabling our digital future

Digitalization, data and new technologies will disrupt industry. Economies will be dominated by services and driven by data. Technologies, such as IoT, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will become more prevalent. And with the increased reliance on data, new challenges will emerge. According to Lanctot, "cyber security will be necessary to protect data from misuse and ensure the safety of systems. Privacy rules will need to be enhanced so as to better assess what data can or cannot be used".

The role of the IEC, including its service offering and delivery, must adapt accordingly to keep pace with industry. The traditional approach for developing standards is unlikely to remain a viable business option in 2030. Instead, IEC must consider what new services it can provide, what business models can be adopted and what the process will be, for IEC to adapt to these changes.

As noted by Lanctot, "2030 is only eleven years from now. This part of the seminar will focus on how IEC positions itself at that time. How will IEC address these new circumstances in terms of standardization?".

Cyber security and the Industrial IoT

Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) technology is designed to improve the efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing sector. It is a growing technology trend, with an estimated USD 6 trillion projected to have been spent on IIoT solutions between 2015 and 2020. As Lanctot notes, "it affects all of the automation areas the IEC touches upon".

However, the rapid growth of IIoT technologies generates new security threats that can affect critical infrastructure as well as those relying upon secure networks and manufacturing processes. And because these devices are generally designed to connect cyber and physical environments, the consequences of a security vulnerability can result in physical damage. Critical infrastructure, including power stations and transport networks, are vulnerable to cyber attacks that could have devastating consequences.

To combat security threats, Lanctot noted that "the MSB has put forward a few ideas like working with industry, conformity assessment schemes, fast-track more standards and industry training".

This part of the seminar will provide an overview of the current trends in IIoT deployment, the current status of security standards and regulation, and recommendations for the IEC to lead a coordinated and harmonized approach to develop security standards and conformity assessment systems.

Infrastructure resilience due to climate change

Hurricanes, heat waves and flooding are some of the extreme weather events occurring with increased frequency. The impact on electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure can be devastating with blackouts affecting millions of people. As a result, Lanctot notes that "how systems are designed and operated may need to be re-examined to ensure that they withstand extreme weather events. It may also be necessary to reconsider recovery efforts to bring grids back into working order in shorter periods of time".

The addition of international standards that can assess the vulnerability of the grid to climate change and streamline recovery efforts should a disaster strike may be necessary. They can also help support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy) and Sustainable Development Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure).

Part of the seminar will tackle the issue of reliance for utilities and the types of solutions that IEC can provide. According to Lanctot, "legacy grid equipment, which can be up to 30 years old in some cases, is at risk as we face more extreme storms and temperatures. We need to ask whether the equipment is resilient enough to comply with a changing environment and what kind of resilience is needed".