Stumble into standardisation leads to top award

Bernard Dumortier on the left receives the Lord Kelvin Award from Jacques Régis, IEC chaiman.

Bernard Dumortier has been awarded the IEC’s Lord Kelvin award, the highest distinction granted by IEC, by Jacques Régis, Président of the IEC. The presentation was made at the gala dinner of the annual meeting of IEC at Seattle (WA US). Lord Kelvin was the first President of the IEC.

Bernard Dumortier has been active in IEC work for over 25 years, starting as a member of the French shadow committee and working as expert in the Fieldbus projects developed within SC65C. He is currently ISA-France Vice-president and secretary and an influential member of the ISA standardisation Board and memeber of several committees.

In 1993, Bernard became the Secretary of the SC65C and took the challenge to finalize the standardization of Fieldbus.  Under his management SC65C successfully standardized the Fieldbus and is now taking a leadership role in Industrial Wireless.

Since 2001 Bernard serves as TC65 Secretary.  He has been instrumental in facilitating the new organization of TC65 with, among other things, the creation of SC65E dedicated to device integration in enterprise systems.
The nomination says “in recognition of his substantial contributions to the IEC in the field of Industrial Automation.  Bernard has displayed skills in managing difficult and controversial negotiations without confrontation, reaching instead agreement with logic, persuasion and inclusion.  Bernard has been a key contributor to the re-organization of the TC65 which now gathers all the worldwide players in the automation fields.”

He stumbled into standardisation a bit by chance he told e-tech’s Philippa Martin King. “Standardization wasn’t a career decision,” he says. “It was my boss’s idea. I’d been working for around 15 years in the company as an engineer and head of the electronics laboratory when one day my boss called me into his office and told me he was sending me out the next day to take part in a special fieldbus project. I wasn’t a fieldbus specialist but he obviously had ulterior motives. They needed someone who spoke English, he told me.”

Standardization role wasn’t a career decision
Dumortier, as his boss had obviously intended, ended up doing quite a bit more than simply attending a meeting about fieldbuses. Almost immediately, he found himself leading a group drafting the FIP (Factory Interface Protocol) specifications for the Eureka Field Bus project, a European umbrella project for technology collaboration, which was itself destined to be included in a standardization process.

Dumortier says the standardization situation for fieldbuses was hazy: “There were two similar regional teams both working on more or less the same projects, and they seemed to have somewhat similar aims. It’s not really surprising perhaps since the Project Leader for both groups, the ISA-S50.02 group and IEC WG (Working Group) 6 of IEC SC (Subcommittee) 65C: Industrial networks, was the same person. ISA (International Society of Automation) used to meet every month and IEC met every three months with the result that each time, the week-long meeting started under one banner and then we switched hats to cover the other project.”

Franco-German confrontation on American soil
Dumortier describes his first international standardization experience: “Progress was hard going because we French with our FIP project were up against the Germans who were defending their own PROFIBUS project. Fortunately, the Americans were there to channel our animosity. It was in that context that I met Tom Phinney, who later became the editor of the mammoth 10 000-page standard we finally produced [with IEC SC 65C]. Today, we can laugh about the first ‘Franco-German war’ to take place on American soil. It was Phinney who coined that phrase. I was able to appreciate not only his qualities as a technician, but also his ability as an excellent strategist. He was just so clairvoyant in his whole approach during that Franco-Germanic standardisation confrontation.”

Paving the way for taking a systems approach
The American intervention finally led to consensus between the two groups with their different allegiances and an agreement to draw up IEC International Standards that took very much a systems approach. The result was a series of (TYPE) protocols and (CPF – Communication Profile Family) profiles in IEC 61158 Industrial communication networks – Fieldbus specifications, and IEC 61784, Industrial communication networks – Profiles, with new editions released in June 2010. They define a set of protocol-specific communication profiles that can be used in the design of devices involved in communications in factory manufacturing and process control, as opposed to being based on a single protocol.

The importance of industry in achieving consensus for standardization
Before that state of consensus could be achieved however, it took a summit meeting with representatives of all the stakeholders gathered together in the office of Anthony Raeburn, IEC General Secretary 1988-1998. The IEC TC 65 officers were present, as was the IEC President of the time, Mathias Fünfschilling (1999-2001), together with representatives of each IEC NC (National Committee) and top management of all the industries concerned. “He told us we needed to come to a mutual agreement”, says Dumortier.

“That’s when you see the importance of industry in these matters,” he says. “It needed technical representation from the companies concerned – and in this particular case we’re talking CEOs, who came accompanied by technical advisors – not political representatives – to come to a mutual agreement on a matter that was entirely technical. We couldn’t have solved the problem satisfactorily between NC representatives. We needed that technical expertise and the involvement of the industry specialists themselves to be able to take a really qualified decision.”

Participation in TC work means working actively
Another important change had also come about when the WG (Working Group) had previously met in Ottawa, Canada. “We needed to redefine various things because we weren’t quite ready to vote on our standardization work,” says Dumortier. “But there was no point in someone giving a negative vote if they didn’t submit any corresponding technical comments. That’s not a valid way of proceeding.”

Dumortier produced some efficient people management skills. He simply told the former Chairman of the SC (Subcommittee) that he wasn’t going to sign the CDV (Committee Draft for Voting) until he had received the relevant comments. “I’m not dogmatic”, he says, “and, even if my own personal choice isn’t what we finally choose, I believe in consensus.” Instead of continuing with the raised-hand voting, he proceeded to summon each member by alphabetical order to obtain their individual vote. “Of course some people weren’t too happy,” he underlines, “but it gave everyone the opportunity to say what they really felt and gradually the situation broadened out to become what it is today: smooth and consensual. Today, we have all these publications to show for it.

“But we’d still never be where we are today if we hadn’t had an editor like Tom Phinney. He’s a major element in the team.”

Today, Phinney is Convenor of TC 65/WG 10: Security for industrial process measurement and control – Network and system security, and TC 65/SC 65C/WG 13: Cyber Security, in addition to eight other member roles in various TC 65 groups and liaison roles with ITU-T /SG 17 and ISO/IEC JTC (Joint Technical Committee) 1/SC 27 for IEC TC 65: Industrial-process measurement, control and automation, and with ISA/SP 99 for IEC SC 65C. [ITU-T stands for the International Telecommunication Union Telecommunication Standardization Sector. ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization.]

Another person Dumortier cites as being instrumental in helping the group get the results it did is Graeme G. Wood. He’s on the 2010 list of honours as a recipient of the IEC 1906 award. “Graeme is someone I’d call a true expert”, says Dumortier. “He’s in all the fieldbus committees and is liaison officer with the Joint Working Groups [ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 25] and incredibly willing. He has a truly remarkable capacity in a Working Group to take minutes that reflect exactly what happened. If the SC 65C works so well, it’s also thanks to people like Graeme.”

But their first encounters were not so unequivocal. “‘I’ve never met such a silly engineer in all my life.’ That’s what I know Graeme was muttering in his beard – I understood him perfectly,” smiles Dumortier. “I know my English wasn’t precise. But it’s not so easy when you’re not speaking your mother tongue. You don’t weigh the effect of your words in the same way.”

Working in standardization helps understand the competition
However, he soon learnt to appreciate Wood’s expertise. “In our Working Group discussions we were talking about various technologies produced by our various companies. Wood was obviously backing his own. The technology we [the French] were pursuing wasn’t yet finalized but we were quite confident about the developments we’d made until he criticized our messaging system, telling us it was totally inefficient. He’s such an excellent technician and so implicated in technology that he couldn’t help but propose us a new solution. The changes we eventually made didn’t exactly follow what he suggested. They didn’t make good enough use of the protocol. But thanks to his intervention, it opened our eyes to the fact that our company’s messaging system was inefficient and we revised the entire programme. Essentially, he was instrumental in our system changes. That helped the world advance. It also made for a friendship that has never diminished.”

Consensus is what counts
“In standardization you can have some quite heated discussions, but once out of that formal meeting context, you find you have real friends with whom you have a lot in common. That’s when you create the consensus.”

Dumortier cites a third person whom he claims is part of the success of SC 65C. He names Ludwig Winkel, “the person who set off the Ottawa discussions where there was so much hostility”, he adds. “I persuaded Winkel to take on the task of Convenor of SC 65C MT (Maintenance Team) for IEC 61158 and IEC 61784-1 and 2 (Fieldbus). [Winkel is also Convenor of SC 65C/WG 17: Wireless Coexistence]. Winkel is at ease in international meetings and is most competent when it comes to fieldbuses. So he was the perfect choice for the task in managing a multi-protocol standard. In a committee, you can defend your own ideas and interests. Just because a person doesn’t have the same vision as you do doesn’t stop them having clairvoyance and using it for the good of the group. That’s what consensus in international standardization is about.”

Consortia need international recognition
“Why is TC 65 so successful?” says Dumortier. “It’s because all the main actors are present. Industry really has something to gain here. They all sit around the same table. Consortia can’t work on their own. Once they have developed their solutions, they need the seal of approval of an international organization in order to gain international recognition for their standardization work.”

The importance of a non-hierarchical officer status
Returning to the subject of committees and the officers, Dumortier says: “It’s important to underline the importance of the complicity between the roles of Chairman and the Secretary of a TC. As you know, in an IEC TC the two officers are always elected from different countries. That makes for a particular quality in the IEC. If, within a TC there weren’t that relationship with a mixture of cultures and instead, you had officers from the same country, you would likely find a hierarchical relationship. In IEC TCs, that simply doesn’t exist. The Chairman and Secretary have mutual respect for each other. It’s the mixture of cultures that makes the difference.

“There are three such Chairmen I want to mention,” says Dumortier. “First, there’s Otto Ulrichs”, says Dumortier. “That makes two Lord Kelvin Awards for TC 65!” [NB Otto Eberhard Ulrichs, Germany – received the Lord Kelvin Award in 2003]. It’s thanks to Otto Ulrichs”, says Dumortier, “that we were able to set down the basis for the TC 65 strategy. My relationship with Otto had started off on bad terms. There was such mutual hostility between us. It was only once I’d pleaded for help that the original friction turned into a relationship of trustful collaboration which, from that day on, never wavered.

“Later on, I completed that original plan for TC 65 with the present Chairman of TC 65, Roland Heidel. With Roland, we’re very complementary. Our relationship is one of incredible complicity. It has been largely instrumental in giving TC 65 the world leading position it has in industrial automation today.

“Finally,” continues Dumortier, “there’s Tony Capel [Chairman of SC 65C], the person who introduced me to the world of Anglo-Saxon culture, something that can’t be underestimated in standardization. It is he too that backed me in helping us reach consensus. I use him as my sounding board to test out my ideas.

“Over the years, these three people have become real friends. Without them I would never have received the Lord Kelvin Award. I owe them such a lot.”

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One Response to Stumble into standardisation leads to top award

  1. Was really glad to see this article posted elsewhere than on the IEC website. I enjoyed talking to Bernard in order to write it too.

    Could I have my name spelt Philippa (one ‘l’ and two ‘p’s) please? (Corrected apologies! Ed)

    We’re still working on the huge number of photos that came back from Seattle after the IEC GM. You can expect to see them up and published in the next few days.

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