Raising Asian involvement

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

Asia has been lagging behind Europe and the U.S. in the standardization of electrical technology, and the trend has been that Western countries have set the standards and Asian ones have followed.

But the appointment of Panasonic Corp. Corporate Advisor Junji Nomura as the International Electrotechnical Commission president in January and Tokyo’s hosting of the 78th IEC General Meeting may signal a reversal of this trend.

The last Asians, also both Japanese, to hold the three-year term of the IEC presidency were Seiichi Takayanagi in 2002, and Noboru Takagi in 1977.

“Asia is a big manufacturing market. It is significant to the world that Asia adopts international standards,” Nomura said during an interview.

Nomura has already gone to South Korea, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam since he assumed the post in January, to meet IEC national committee members and industry minister-level governmental officials. Europe and the Americas are typically covered by IEC General Secretary Frans Vreeswijk, a former executive of Philips of the Netherlands.

“It’s not that the IEC makes requests to the governments of each country. Discussions with those ministers are about what the IEC can do to provide solutions in each country,” Nomura said.

Asked if Nomura being the IEC chairman benefits Japanese companies, he actually thinks bigger: “Asia should be more involved in the early stages of standardization discussions. We will promote such activities, which will be accelerated by an Asian person being the chairman,” he said.

Standardization is an important business strategy for technology companies as demand rose for products using technologies certified as global standards after the World Trade Organization enforced the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade in 1995 and the Agreement on Government Procurement in 1996.

Nomura’s vision as IEC president is basically in line with the IEC Masterplan 2011.

The IEC came up with the plan amid growing sentiment that the world must review energy policy in the wake of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in March 2011, Nomura said. Also, emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil kept expanding and took a huge presence in the market for electronic devices, forcing the IEC to change its course of action to meet demand from such developing countries in creating cities and developing new business fields.

The IEC Masterplan 2011 reflects such a global environment. As president of the IEC, Nomura said he wants to strengthen the collaboration with the industry, as the theme of the IEC Masterplan 2011 is making the IEC “The Home of Industry.”

Nomura himself and other IEC officers are proactively in discussions with technology companies to come up with appropriate platforms to satisfy their needs.

“Standardization is not valuable unless global manufacturers use the technology and global end-users use the products,” he said.

Also, he said he wants to promote a so-called “systems approach,” in which the IEC will focus on standardization of total systems, instead of individual products. The need for such a shift of focus has arisen recently as new business fields involve many different products and industries, requiring collective system solutions, rather than solutions through individual products.

Such new business fields include smart cities, or cities that have infrastructures optimizing use of electricity by reducing energy use and producing renewable energy.

Another of his goals is to speed up the process of standardization to meet the demand from an ever-changing market. To that end, the IEC set up the Market Strategy Board in 2008. The MSB comes up with strategies to maximize input from companies in main markets and prioritize new activities on standardization and conformity assessment, which is to confirm whether products, services and processes satisfy certain standards.

Some Japanese have been members of the MSB and have made contributions in the areas of electricity storage, electricity continuity and recovery in case of accidents.

He would also like to strengthen governance of conformity assessment. The IEC is the only international standardization organization that conducts conformity assessment, and the IEC’s Conformity Assessment Board, or CAB, handles the related activities.

Nomura is considering measures to encourage countries and other stakeholders to participate in CAB activities, strengthen monitoring of the needs of conformity assessment in developing countries and do other things to enhance the CAB.

Lastly, he would like to promote activities on new technology, systems and services such as smart cities. It is important to provide conformity assessment on important technology that can improve people’s daily lives swiftly and thoroughly, he said.

To achieve this, it is important to not only listen to the industry’s opinion but also to collaborate with other standardization organizations, he said. The top management of the IEC, the International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, and the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, meet once a year to discuss standardization at the World Standards Cooperation. The IEC deals with electricity and energy, the ISO handles service and applications, while the ITU is in charge of communications technology.

Such efforts by the IEC and industry will be more effective with government support. Nomura is grateful to the Japanese government’s recent move to assist companies, especially small companies, to raise awareness of standardization.

“It is in the government’s interest to encourage small companies to participate in creating and following standards because following electrical safety is in line with international treaties,” he said.

The government has enabled the Japanese Standards Association, or JSA, to create working groups and documents for application of standardizations and function as an inquiry center on standardization, which will simplify and speed the process of standard application and acquisition.

Amid the government’s push to support Japanese companies, Nomura’s presidency at the IEC and Japanese advancement in environmental technology, the 78th IEC General Meeting will be held in Tokyo between Nov. 4 and 15.

It is the first IEC general meeting in Japan in 15 years. With the meeting’s concept, “Integration toward a Smarter World,” there will be many attractive sideline events such as “Technical Visits,” which will invite meeting participants to view Japan’s latest technologies.

“While the importance of international standardization increases, the general meeting is very important event for Japan to take further initiative,” he said.

Download the PDF of this IEC General Meeting in Tokyo

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