New chief in IEC certification systems

Steve Margis is the new Chair of the IEC System for Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components.

Since January, Steven Margis has begun serving as the new Chair of IECEE, the IEC System for Conformity Assessment Schemes for Electrotechnical Equipment and Components. With a career in conformity assessment spanning over 30 years, he is well placed to lead the largest of the four IEC Conformity Assessment Systems.

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IECEE is a multilateral certification system based on IEC International Standards. It offers testing and certification for the safety, performance and efficiency for 23 categories of electrical and electronic products, including medical devices. Since its establishment in 1985, IECEE has issued over 1,6 million certificates which, as Margis notes, “have had a substantial global impact.”

Margis has been involved in conformity assessment since the onset of his career. After graduating from Marquette University, he joined UL in the United States. “When I started in conformity assessment, it was at a time when we were on the cusp of globalization. My job was to help manufacturers get their products to global markets. Given its role in facilitating global trade, I was soon involved with the IECEE,” he explains.

Building expertise in conformity assessment takes time. As Margis notes, “I started working behind the scenes with the IECEE via experts within my organization before eventually joining working groups directly and now being a part of the leadership. It has been quite a journey.”

The strengths of IECEE

According to Margis, the IECEE has a strong history of developing rules and procedures that ensure confidence in its resulting services.  “These governance materials have been developed and approved by our national Member Bodies that consist of diverse stakeholder interests balanced between conformity assessment organizations and industry.” While the strength of the IECEE is derived from the alignment between these interests, Margis points out that “it is further enhanced by additional stakeholders, such as regulators, who actively contribute to the objectives of the IECEE System.”

In many countries, regulators are responsible for establishing technical, safety and quality requirements and monitoring compliance. “The IECEE provides a tool to help regulators achieve their objectives. We have examples across our 54 participating member countries who mutually recognize the deliverables of the IECEE System within their own national system and enable market access,” remarks Margis. “And while the IECEE may not provide the end deliverable in some markets, it is a step towards our ultimate goal:  one standard, one test, one conformity assessment certificate accepted everywhere.”

Yet, there are challenges to achieve this goal. For example, infrastructures vary between countries as do regulatory regimes. “While IEC Standards provide a foundation to align basic safety requirements across the globe, the IECEE must consider what we refer to as ‘national differences’ that are additionally necessary to meet the technical requirements of various national systems as well as the associated trust and confidence requirements to meet local needs,” notes Margis.

Nurturing the foundations

The IECEE System currently offers certification services to over 3 000 unique standards, including associated editions and amendments. “When we talk about change, we must consider that as a mature system, in 2021, despite the pandemic, over 100 standards - meaning editions, amendments and new standards - were published and introduced into the IECEE. Standardization is a key indicator of demand and a driver for services.  Following this ever-changing standards environment serves us very well.”

When considering his new role as IECEE Chair, Margis asserts that one of his most important objectives will be to nurture the foundation that has already been built. However, he says that this includes driving efficiencies for change. “Any change has to go in lockstep with our well-established foundational rules and procedures.

For example, we have opportunities to increase communication, reconsider the time cycles that we operate in, and identify opportunities and make decisions as close to on demand as possible within our given policies.”

Entering new markets

While 173 countries participate in the work of the IEC as members and affiliates, not all are involved in the IECEE. According to Margis, “The biggest challenge is to bring additional IEC countries into the IECEE System that are not yet actively participating. However, doing so successfully requires engaging with local markets to ensure that they understand the value of the system and how it can contribute to their conformity assessment needs.”

He also adds that it is essential to have dialogue with national stakeholders about their standardization requirements. “Standards are the backbone of the IEC and serve as a support system to help meet the confidence criteria of the marketplace and result in conformity assessment deliverables,” he remarks.

Affiliate countries also offer opportunities to expand the IECEE community. “It is critical that we help these countries recognize how their participation and utilisation of IEC Standards provides value and helps to optimise conformity assessment resources in their community. However, without standards in place, the conformity assessment deliverables of the IECEE cannot follow. While there is more work that can be done, we can't rush the process. It is more about a journey that we can take together and hopefully better understand and address local market needs.”

Promoting diversity and inclusiveness

According to Margis, diversity and inclusiveness are essential for the future of the IECEE. While diversity of geography is already top of mind, Margis stresses that “when we have critical conversations, they need to be inclusive of stakeholders across geographies and stakeholder groups. It is in our interest to be diverse so that we hear the full voice of our members.  We encourage active participation across the IECEE to ensure these voices are heard.”

“We are successful because of the active engagement and contributions of our members. As we see a turnover of experts across the community due to many factors, we need to consider how we will continue to maintain a high level of engagement from our members while providing opportunities to onboard and introduce the next wave of experts,” Margis remarks.

Lessons learnt from the pandemic

During the pandemic, under the leadership of then IECEE Chair Wolfgang Niedziella, the IECEE was able to quickly react and ensure business continuity by implementing guidance related to the temporary utilization of remote assessments developed by experts from the IECEE’s Peer Assessment Committee. As Margis notes, “The IECEE’s ability to be nimble and utilize our experts has served us well and ensured the necessary level of confidence in our temporary approach to assessments.”

Working across different time zones throughout the world has proved to be a challenge, not only for remote assessments, but for all ongoing work of the IECEE. Meeting times often required late nights for some participants and very early starts for others. According to Margis, “We have to be mindful of the consequences when we work in a web environment. We need to find creative ways to meaningfully communicate and advance work across time zones using tools like the IEC collaboration platform so that participants can contribute efficiently.”

When considering the efforts made by experts during the pandemic, Margis concludes, “I want to recognize the extraordinary contributions of our international colleagues under significant time constraints during the pandemic period in working together to find ways to ease that burden for all our members.”