Walt, wireless and the curate’s egg

Earlier this month we published a release which, at first glance, appeared to be the approval of the ISA 100.11a 2011 Industrial Wireless Standard by the IEC. We entitled it ISA100 receives IEC approval – yes and no!. What it was in fact was an announcement of recognition of the standard by the IEC “as a publicly available specification, or PAS.”

The release was carefully worded and indeed further down it quoted the chair of IEC’s SC656 Committee, which would in fact oversee the actual approval of the standard, as saying “An IEC PAS allows the early publication of a standard that has obtained consensus in a professional society such as ISA, and will further promote the use of this standard throughout the world!”

As we published our article a commentary was published by the well respected Editor in Chief of Control, Walt Boyes, who is in fact a voting member of the ISA 100 Wireless Systems for Automation Committee. This was critical of the release and of the procedure adopted to get this approval. His article, Truthiness is next to Godliness, in effect stated that the release was, if I may quote the old English expression, “like the curate’s egg.” We quoted from this as a sidebox on our blog. His beef was that the procedure adopted was irregular for the obtaining of full IEC approval and in that it did not follow the usual ISA rubrics in obtaining this approval. In this case the approach to IEC was through a Canadian standards body. He also maintained that the release implied that the standard had in fact full ANSI approval, which it hadn’t, and that as an ANSI approved body it was obliged to process all standards through this, the US standards authority. He also challenged the “openess” of the standard. (Truthiness,” is an Americanism for shading the truth in your favour!)

See also the British based Industrial Automation Insider’s comment in their October issue reproduced below! There is an interesting discussion on this as well on the LinkedIn Industrial Wireless Group.

It now appears that he was tackled by somebody in ISA, in what he thinks were fairly intemperate terms. He has not felt free to divulge the actual correspondance without the agreement of the other party but from a blog he wrote the other day, Truthiness Clarified! we may perhaps make certain broad assumptions.

This person apparantly felt that there were significant errors and misinformation in what he had written about the press release and what it really meant. In the course of this dialogue Boyes believed his integrity was impugned and that, in essence, he was accused of being in the pocket of certain vested interests. Now I have known Walt Boyes for over forty years and somebody less likely to be in anybody’s pocket it would be difficult to imagine. Indeed he says, and I have no difficulty believing it “…as Editor in Chief, I think it is pretty clear that I am an equal opportunity offender,” when it comes to anything he writes. He takes few hostages!

It is more than likely at some stage that ISA100.11a will in fact be approved as an IEC and ANSI standard but perhaps this might happen more quickly if a more unified and regular procedure were adopted by the committee as is the case in the multitude of other ISA standards used throughout the world.

• We had hardly published the above piece when the latest Industrial Automation Insider hit our post box and Nick Denbow corroborated and agreed with a lot of what Boyes wrote in his original piece. We append Nick’s piece here:

Liars, damned liars and manipulative PR writers

One of the main functions of the INSIDER is to read a press release, then sit back and ask how it relates to any other press releases, or even known information about the same subject. The title above is a variation on Mark Twain’sreported comment about “statistics” being worse than even “damned lies” (but no-one knows whether it was a phrase from Mark Twain, or Disraeli, in around 1890). A similar phrase was used in the journal ‘Nature’ in 1885, in the context of describing witnesses as: “Simple liars, damned liars and experts”. But then they had never met a PR agent, because they had not been conceived in 1885 – propaganda, and public relations, was really invented in WW1, probably by the US Government (employing Edward Bernays, nephew of psychoanalysis pioneer Sigmund Freud, and Ivy Lee).

Publish: it must be true!
These days, there are so many websites available that merely reproduce any press releases submitted to them, as submitted, that the word-manipulations of the PR agent can sail through to “officially endorsed” publication. Not many of the regular ISA releases reach the INSIDER, because most advertise their future events, rather than present useful information. However their latest release promoting the actions taken over ISA100 with the IEC stretches to the lower depths of the PR art.

ISA finds new route into the IEC The title of this ISA release claims that the ISA100 Wireless Standard Receives IEC Approval: even the capitals imply that the words are formal. But the ISA100 wireless specification is not yet a standard with a capital “S”, in IEC terms, and their approval, with a small “a”, is maybe ‘approval, but not as we know it’, in the words of Star-Trek: in other words, actually, the IEC has agreed to a proposed course of action by the ISA. That course of action is to publish the specification, presumably the one called ISA100.11a-2011, as a “Publicly Available Specification (PAS)”, and that has to be an excellent idea. It is just a pity it has taken what seems to be three years for the queries raised by the participation of a user [Shell Global Solutions] – about the identified problems in ISA100.11a in the “Nice Use Case
Analysis Project” – to be answered (See the background published on www.iainsider.com and in the INSIDER, dated March 2010). This puts a new light on the oft repeated claim that the ISA100 specification is developed with “direct enduser participation and support”.

Hopefully the publicly available version of the specification will be posted soon on the ISA website, for public consumption. Regrettably it will probably, in reality, be available only for an exorbitant fee, via the Wireless Compliance Institute, one of the money-making commercial arms of the ISA, and probably will not encourage or enable the easier design of products meeting ISA100 by smaller companies. We should maybe remain alert and look out for a continuing closed shop.

False claims and knocking copy
The ISA release also makes comments about how their procedures have followed an “open consensus process as accredited by ANSI”. This claim is covered and dismissed very effectively by Walt Boyes in his weblog for September 16.

Boyes also highlights the traditional ISA slap made in their press release against the WirelessHART standard, which was accepted as an IEC Standard, IEC62591, over 18 months ago. ISA says “Unlike non-accredited processes typically used by vendors’ consortia to develop specifications, ISA’s [claimed as] ‘ANSI approved’ procedures call for direct participation and voting by experts from end-user companies”. Boyes asks how long the ISA is going to “continue flogging this really dead horse”, which does appear to reflect poorly back on the ISA themselves. But there is a more general comment to be made: how long is the vendor and user community expected to wait for these venerated, very slow moving standards committees to catch up with the faster strides of technology? The ISA is three years late.

Satisfying market demands
In that time, the dynamic engineers and marketing people in the vendors, using the market knowledge gained from customers, i.e. end-users, have developed the products that these users wanted, and to a standard that works
in practice, WirelessHART. The experts in the enduser companies have participated, and voted, by investing in testing these WirelessHART products and systems, and then installing them in ever-increasing numbers. Not only is WirelessHART an IEC standard, it is the de facto market standard. ISA100 has to do something positive to gain more than their existing toehold it has in this market, rather than keeping on talking about what happened years ago. A PAS is only the first step, and a very small step, forward. It is time for the ISA to look to the future, and that future might well have been in a back-haul standard. But maybe that is now too late.

The ISA saga continues on the Walt Boyes SoundOff blog, where Walt continues to try to present his logical reasoned views, while not being allowed to quote the critcs from the ISA directly.
Any similar communications or corrections to the INSIDER viewpoint will be published, as they happen, on the INSIDER blog,

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One Response to Walt, wireless and the curate’s egg

  1. [...] 16, Wireless Industrial Networks, resulted in an initial working schedule. (See also our article, Walt, wireless and the curates egg! 3rd October [...]

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