A deep-dive into the work of the IEC Market Strategy Board

Interview with Dr Kazuhiko Tsutsumi, IEC Vice President and Convenor of the MSB

The IEC Market Strategy Board (MSB) helps the IEC better understand the challenges of the future. Its 15 members identify the principal technological trends and market needs in the areas where the IEC undertakes its standardization and conformity assessment work with the aim of supporting IEC strategy and priorities. Safety 2.0, cyber security and Industrial IoT, artificial intelligence and IEC in 2030 are some of the topics that the MSB has recently addressed in its white papers and conference held during the IEC General Meeting.

Image of Kazuhiko Tsutsumi, IEC Vice President and Convenor of the IEC Market Strategy Board
Kazuhiko Tsutsumi, IEC Vice-President and Convenor of the IEC Market Strategy Board

The MSB has recently expanded its remit to include shorter reports on topics of relevance to the IEC. These topics will be investigated as part of a new Special Working Group on Societal and Technology Trends.

In an interview with e-tech, the IEC Vice President and Convenor of the MSB, Kazuhiko Tsutsumi, gives an overview of the mission of the MSB, recent changes to its strategic approach and the topics to be explored this year.

How do you define the role of the MSB and how does it support the Standardization Management Board (SMB) and Conformity Assessment Board (CAB) as well as the wider IEC community?

The current Masterplan Implementation Plan (MIP), and the discussions in which I participate as a member of the MIP Taskforce, lays out the MSB’s role as a think tank for the IEC and also tasks the MSB to present a roadmap of future trends in society and technology for the IEC.

The MSB has taken on these roles not only through expanded collaboration with the SMB and CAB and respective strategic groups and working groups, but also by actively involving SMB and CAB members in MSB activities such as the white papers, and the Societal and Technology Trends Working Group (STTWG) that was created in 2020. For example, the recently published IEC White Paper Safety in the future involved members of the SMB and CAB from the onset and the three Boards worked closely together to complete it.

For the IEC community at large, an MSB conference has been held during the week of the IEC General Meeting since 2016 in order to provide an open forum for IEC attendees to discuss the themes on which the MSB is focusing. We hope to continue these, and other activities so that the MSB remains a key and active contributor within the IEC.

The MSB has set up the Societal and Technology Trends Working Group (STTWG). What is the role of the new working group?

So far, the most visible deliverables from the MSB have been white papers, while the Masterplan is also asking the MSB to identify and understand market and society needs and assess impact on the IEC community. In my view, both the white papers and the MSB conference during the General Meeting are integral parts of roadmapping activities, with white papers focusing on technical areas that are closely related to the IEC.

In addition to this technical viewpoint, I decided that the MSB should also take an overarching look at societal trends to uncover and discuss emerging technologies, a role now being fulfilled with the establishment of the STTWG. The STTWG is composed of six MSB members whose aim is to collect and analyze information on new technologies, market and social trends which may impact IEC in the next seven to ten years.

Currently there are two sub-WGs within the STTWG researching important trends in Digital Healthcare and Lean Mobility.

These two topics were selected from a list of suggested themes proposed by STTWG MSB members and will be presented by the STTWG to the MSB and IEC community as two short reports, approximately 10 pages in length. These high-level, market-focussed publications stand in contrast to the deep-dive white papers that are typically near 100 pages and take a year to discuss and publish.

The Digital Healthcare sub-WG is co-led by Dr Katsumi Emura and CAB Chair Mr Shawn Paulsen; the Lean Mobility sub-WG is led by MSB member Mr Maurizio Bragagni. Both sub-WGs aim to publish their reports in the spring of 2021, and I look forward to reading them.

The term roadmapping is used to discuss the work of the MSB. What does this term mean?

Bringing together the insights of individual MSB members in order to anticipate the future through discussions amongst its members is the primary task of the MSB. Discussion itself is key for the MSB.

White papers look at future of technologies relevant to IEC activities over the next three to five years. Supplementing this effort is MSB research into societal and technology trends over a period of 10 to 15 years to seek out gaps between future societies and IEC current scope of work. Examining societal and technology trends is a new task of the MSB that adds to MSB roadmapping.

Therefore, roadmapping is used to describe the overall approach that the MSB is undertaking. What we mean by roadmapping is the overall output that is shared with the IEC community resulting from the white paper recommendations, technology trend reports, key market watch activities identified during MSB Roundtable discussions as well as position papers that are sponsored by a MSB member.

What are the priority projects under discussion right now by the MSB?

Quantum Information Technologies was selected as the white paper for 2021. As a topic of round table discussions and the focus of attention at MSB meetings for several years now, the timing seemed appropriate for the MSB to dive into this subject.

As mentioned earlier, the STTWG selected Digital Healthcare and Lean Mobility as its two sub-WGs and respective short papers. After a roundtable discussion of candidate topics that call for a longer-term perspective, the STTWG core members voted to select these two as representing challenges and opportunities for the IEC.

Can you tell us more about the next IEC White Paper on Quantum Information Technologies?

Quantum information technology is actually a bit of a challenge to define at this stage. The initial task of the white paper team will be to identify the scope of the definition of quantum information technology as it applies to the IEC. This is similar to what was done for last year's IEC White Paper on Safety in the future where it was first necessary to clarify and affirm that the IEC, indeed, has a role to play in safety.

As the implementation of quantum technology in the real world is expected to advance dramatically in the not-so-distant future, the MSB believes that the discussion will include identifying those changes that are anticipated will occur when quantum IT is implemented by society.

The objective of the IEC White Paper is to identify trends of quantum information and communication technologies and using use cases to try to pinpoint specific areas requiring future needs for standardization. I expect that the project will result in strategic recommendations to the IEC, stakeholders and industry.

Contributors to this year's white paper process will, however, face the difficult challenge of having to meet virtually due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, I look forward to the leadership of MSB member Dr Dong-sub Kim and his project management team.

Has Covid-19 had an impact on the topics that the MSB will address in 2021?

I do not foresee much of an impact on the Quantum Information Technologies White Paper discussions, although the normal process of the project team meeting in person throughout the course of the project will most likely not be an option until mid-2021 at the earliest.

On the other hand, two of the STTWG's themes may reflect a great deal of impact: the spread of Covid-19 has made society aware of the importance of health care that the sub-WG is discussing from the point of view of how digital technologies can contribute.

Discussions by the Lean Mobility sub-WG, on the other hand, are focused on how disruptions by events such as pandemics to our usual way of moving around will call for a closer look at what mobility means to different communities. Lean Mobility is an effort to think about the social changes with mobility from a new vantage point.