Standards for the IoT and digital twin

Francois Coallier

François Coallier is the Chair of the subcommittees formed by IEC and ISO to standardize the Internet of Things (IoT) and Digital Twin, SC 41. He gives us his insights on the main standardization challenges ahead.

What are the upcoming IEC Standards for the IoT? (Picture by Abinav Thakur, WikiCommons)

In addition to SC 41, François Coallier also chairs a Standards Evaluation Group which is looking into bio-digital convergence at the IEC Standardization Management board level.

He tells e-tech about future plans in both areas.


Looking back at 2022, what would you say were SC 41 main achievements?

We published several important standards, including on the compatibility requirements for devices within industrial IoT Systems, ISO/IEC 30162 and ISO/IEC 30169 on IoT applications for electronic label systems. These standards are first editions and are more specifically to do with the IIOT – the Industrial IoT. We also published several standards on the topic of underwater sensors, some of which are second editions, like ISO/IEC 30142-2 on underwater sensor networks.  This standard, as well as ISO/IEC 30171-1, which standardizes underwater wireless acoustic networks, has many applications for industrial uses, for detecting underwater pipeline leakages or discovering underwater resources for instance, but it can also be employed for environmental monitoring.

We are looking at forming a joint working group with ISO Technical Committee 43 on the environmental impact of acoustic sensors used underwater. The idea is to help industry but also to minimize the impact of sensor technology on the environment and affect the wildlife as little as possible.    

How important are joint working groups for SC 41?

They are essential because we need very different sets of expertise from different technical committees for our standards to be used by the various stakeholders involved. I try to always remind our experts that real success does not lie in the publication of standards – they first and foremost need to be used in the various fields they concern. We therefore need to avoid working in silos and cooperate as much as possible, because the IoT is a very vast area which has implications in so many different fields. For example, we have formed a joint working group with TC 65, which prepares standards for industrial processes and automation, and deals with smart manufacturing. We are also looking to form a joint advisory group with TC 65 to strategize standardization in the industrial IoT and avoid any overlaps. In SC 41, we have taken a systems approach and we need to make sure there is a consensus over that. It means spending a lot of time speaking with different experts from different committees, showing openness and listening to other viewpoints. It is a cultural change, a different way of working and it can take time for some experts to get used to it.

Looking forward, what is in the pipeline in terms of new standards?

We have prepared the final draft of ISO/IEC 30179, which sets out an overview and general requirements for environmental monitoring. We have cooperated with ISO/TC 268, which deals with sustainable cities and communities over this standard. We are working on a second edition of our foundational standard ISO/IEC 30141, which defines a reference architecture for the IoT. It will be quite an evolution from the first edition and will be aligned with architecture standards from ISO/IEC SC 7, which prepares standards in software and systems engineering.

We are also working on several standards for digital twins. A priority will be to publish a standard on the reference architecture for digital twins in the next two years. One of the challenges is that the market is evolving at a very fast rate, and we need to be able to publish the standards that are required in a timely fashion. Other TCs are also publishing standards relating to digital twin, and we need to provide them with the framework quite rapidly. We can’t ask them to wait for us. Of course, the COVID pandemic has slowed things down a little, but we hope that thanks to future face-to-face meetings, we will overcome many of the remaining hurdles.

Further down the line, we may be preparing standards for virtual sensors and on the quality of data: how can we ensure the vast amount of information we collect from the various sensors out there is appropriate and meets the right criteria? ISO/IEC SC 42, which prepares standards for artificial intelligence, is looking at these issues, so we could be joining hands on that.

What are the key challenges for your committee?

Timing is certainly an important issue. We need to be agile and be able to make concessions to reach a timely consensus. That means releasing first editions quite fast, knowing that they can be improved over time. If we try too hard to make first editions all-encompassing, we could miss the boat entirely. The idea is to refine and polish things when we publish second or third editions. That’s the way to keep markets happy and enable them to provide feedback that can be included in further editions. It enables us to ensure our standards stay relevant. In software engineering, the timeboxing concept is used to avoid missing deadlines. In those areas, you miss a deadline, and you are dead!

Making sure we have the expertise required is another key challenge, hence the need to cooperate with other TCs, as I mentioned earlier.

What is the plan with SEG 12?

Bio-digital convergence is a vast, multidisciplinary field, covering everything from biomaterials to human augmentation. We have therefore set up several working groups which deal with different areas of bio-digital convergence. In addition to the SEG itself, I head Working Group 6, which focuses on bio-digital standardization opportunities relating to environmental systems of systems. Topics covered include geoengineering, sustainability and the UN Sustainable Development Goals relating to climate action, life below water and life on land. Some of the standards I mentioned on acoustic sensors can have a relevance here.  (To find out more about the working groups read the IEC blog).

My first degree is in environmental biology, and I have a strong interest in the topic – it is my first love, and you never forget your first love! We aim to deliver our final report in April-May next year. We will apply the timeboxing concept. We plan to meet the deadline and not ask for any extension!