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25 years of ISO/IEC JTC 1 - We'™ve come a long way!

by Lisa Rajchel on
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From old-school punch plates to the latest security measures, information and communication technology (ICT) has come a long way in 25 years.

All aspects of life today are in some way affected by ICT. In fact, for most of us, that impact is comprehensive and continually growing. ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)’s joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, has kept pace with the industry’s staggering dynamism and development, introduced numerous standards, and identified many focus areas for future work.

In the beginning…

Twenty-five years ago, Nobel laureate Robert Solow remarked, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” That scepticism is gone, as ICT increasingly fuels innovation, efficiency and economic growth. This applies in the ICT-producing and ICT-using sectors – in other words, the whole interconnected world.

By its nature, the ICT industry is complex and forward-thinking. From a standards perspective, this means that any document developed needs to respond to, and anticipate, the needs of numerous industries and applications operating globally. The industry’s effectiveness and growth depend on the ability of the many component parts and systems to interoperate, work reliably and efficiently, and meet diverse needs.

For more than two decades, ISO/IEC JTC 1 has addressed the standardization needs of the world ICT industry. ISO/IEC JTC 1 defines and lays the foundations for new technologies.

As the committee’s Secretary, it is my pleasure to mark the 25th anniversary of ISO/IEC JTC 1, and share some history and highlights of a remarkable record of accomplishment in moving ICT standardization forward.

Keeping pace

ISO started work on ICT standardization around 1960, as computers began to use transistors and include most of the basic components we see today: printers, tape and disk storage, memory, operating systems and storable programmes. But those “ second generation” machines cost up to USD 100000 and were usually at least the size of a large bookcase. They were loud too, and needed an army of programmers and technicians to carry out operations and maintenance.

As the industry took off due to rapid innovation, widespread acceptance and strong demand, both ISO and IEC worked to keep pace with the development of responsive standards.

By the 1980s, computers were much more user-friendly, ubiquitous in government and business, and increasingly common in homes and schools.

Some early ICT standards were developed by what was then ISO technical committee ISO/TC 97, Information technology, along with IEC/SC 47B and IEC/TC 83. Notable early publications include : ISO 2132:1972, Offset duplicators – Attachment features of plates ; ISO 2257:1980, Office machines and printing machines used for information processing – Widths of fabric printing ribbons on spools ; and ISO 1538:1984, Programming languages – ALGOL 60.

Joining forces

As the technological innovations became more complex and far-reaching, the global standardization community recognized that it needed a venue in which to address all aspects of international ICT standardization. As a result, in 1987, ISO/IEC JTC 1 was formed by the merger of ISO/TC 97 and IEC/SC 47B and IEC/TC 83.

Combining the qualities and strengths of ISO and IEC, ISO/IEC JTC 1 was designed to speed progress and deployment, and to avoid the development of duplicative or possibly incompatible standards by the two organizations.

In its first 15 years, ISO/IEC JTC 1 brought about many successful ICT standards including, in multimedia MPEG (“moving pictures”), IC cards (“smart cards”), security, programming languages and character sets.

In the 2000s, development really took off in new and expanding areas such as security and authentication, bandwidth/connection management, storage and data management, software and systems engineering, service protocols, portable computing devices, and societal aspects (such as data protection and cultural and linguistic adaptability).

While the advancement and interoperability of core technologies remained a key focus, standardization expanded further into systems, management, and processes to keep pace with the demands of an increasingly complex and interconnected technological world.

A changing landscape

Today, ISO/IEC JTC 1 is one of the largest and most prolific technical committees in international standardization. With over 2 500 published standards under the broad umbrella of the committee and its 19 subcommittees, ISO/IEC JTC 1 makes a huge impact on the ICT industry worldwide. And since ICT increasingly permeates every aspect of life, this impact only grows.

The USA is proud to play a leadership role in the work of ISO/IEC JTC 1, with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, the US member body of ISO) serving as secretariat. We have made remarkable progress under the guidance of Karen Higginbottom of HP, who is now serving her second term as the Chair.

Dozens of other countries work alongside us: ISO/IEC JTC 1 has 37 country participants (plus another 54 as observers), and over 2 000 experts from around the world, who represent their National Body positions to develop the most relevant and effective ICT standards. These dedicated professionals drive ISO/IEC JTC 1’s record of accomplishment. Over recent years, the ICT industry has developed at almost every level :

  • Governments around the world have changed their views on the purposes of ICT standardization and the role of ICT standards in procurement
  • Customers have new methods of systems development and specification
  • Compressed product life cycles have altered market conditions
  • Technologies continually evolve, converge and become increasingly complex
  • Customers want integrated solutions that are interoperable.

ISO/IEC JTC 1 has always aimed to develop a consistent strategy for ICT standards, and to accelerate the production and deployment of standards. However, in response to changing industry conditions, it is now committed to being even more responsive and broad-reaching in its activities.

Today, ISO/IEC JTC 1 takes a proactive, forward-thinking approach to new work areas, establishes alliances with key organizations to improve cross-sectoral cooperation, and focuses on the overall technical orientation of work on three key domains – core technologies, system integration and areas of societal concern. This approach has enabled ISO/IEC JTC 1 to make great progress in developing standards that cross a broad swath of technology sectors, particularly in rapidly expanding areas such as cloud computing, security, sustainability and accessibility. For example, 2009 saw the publication of ISO/IEC 27000:2009, Information technology – Security techniques – Information security management systems – Overview and vocabulary. Later that year, ISO/IEC JTC 1 published the series ISO/IEC TR 29138:2009, Information technology – Accessibility considerations for people with disabilities.

These documents reflect the shift towards systemic standards applicable across industry and society. Their effectiveness depends on a keen understanding of the interoperability requirements that technologies increasingly demand.

ISO/IEC JTC 1 is also addressing such critical areas as teleconferences and e-meetings, cloud data management interface, biometrics in identity management, sensor networks for smart grid systems, and corporate governance of ICT implementation. And as technologies converge, ISO/IEC JTC 1 has positioned itself as a system integrator, especially in areas of standardization in which many consortia and forums are active.

In September 2011, ISO/IEC JTC 1 and the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) approved a package of W3C Web service technologies as ISO/IEC International Standards. These widely used technologies now benefit from formal recognition from national bodies, which will promote ICT interoperability for users worldwide.

W3C is one of nine organizations approved as ISO/IEC JTC 1 publicly available specification (PAS) submitters. These bodies can send their specifications directly to ISO/IEC JTC 1 for national body voting to become recognized International Standards. This collaborative process strengthens harmonization between the organizations, and has led to more than 20 submitted PASs being approved as ISO/IEC standards in 2011.

Another 25 years

The ICT industry will continue to grow rapidly, as every facet of life depends increasingly on the capabilities and interactivity brought by innovative technology.

ISO/IEC JTC 1 is committed to keeping pace, and has already identified a large number of focus areas for future work. These include social networking and Web collaboration, augmented reality, e-learning, ubiquitous computing, 3D image technology, virtualization, social analytics and wireless power transfer.

The challenges and opportunities surrounding such critical areas as energy efficiency, sustainability, security and cloud computing will ensure that ISO/IEC JTC 1 has another 25 years of prolific activity. We are committed to developing relevant ICT standards that respond to the industry’s needs and make the world a better place.

Lisa Rajchel
Lisa Rajchel
Senior Director, International Secretariats
American National Standards Institute
Washington, USA