Since it was launched five years ago, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) Industry Connections program has shepherded 22 activities that have brought together marketplace competitors to build consensus and incubate standards and other shared products and services. The Industry Connections Committee (ICC) has organized conferences on standardization in IT, developed tools for combating malicious software, and encouraged teamwork on the next generation of Ethernet. Industry Connections activities sometimes focus on the initial collaborative work in a technical field that could lead to a standard. But more often, the results lead to valuable educational and work products such as white papers, technical guides, software, databases, conferences, and workshops.
The collaborations result from IEEE’s neutral stance, which allows tech competitors to work together to find solutions to common problems. The environment provided by Industry Connections encourages organizations to collaborate, as do such services as offering ready-made policies and procedures for electing officers, setting up a project’s website, announcing significant milestones, and helping publish articles. Without that structure, companies could spend as much as a year setting up a formal joint development activity.
“Industry Connections offers companies and individuals a safe harbor in which to work together,” says IEEE Member Oleg Logvinov, the ICC chair. “We provide everything participants need above and beyond the collaborative work itself, including a recognized brand—IEEE—and the ability to leverage the breadth of IEEE’s standards working groups and technical societies, along with its conferences and publications.”
Jim Wendorf, staff director of the Industry Connections program at IEEE headquarters in Piscataway, N.J., adds that “IEEE is recognized as a trusted party where organizations can come together to create and share results that are owned by everyone; it avoids the sense that one company is doing all of the pulling or pushing.”
An Industry Connections activity can be either entity-based or individual-based. Entities include not only companies but also government agencies, academic institutions, and trade associations. Although each entity can provide more than one representative, it gets only one vote on a decision. After the first year of an activity, entities must become dues-paying members of IEEE-SA. Individuals are called upon to participate as independent experts, and each also gets only one vote.
It is perhaps fitting that during the program’s fifth anniversary, the first group to sign up back in 2009 has just released a new service. In July, the Industry Connections Security Group (ICSG) launched the IEEE Anti-Malware Support Service. The service gives software developers and computer security vendors access to stronger cryptographic and metadata cybersecurity tools and resources to help protect against the spread and effects of rapidly mutating malware threats. The group includes Microsoft and such top security vendors as ESET, FireEye, F-Secure, McAfee, Sourcefire, Symantec, and Trend Micro.
“IEEE ICSG provides a great platform for cooperation among security vendors,” says Mark Kennedy, ICSG chair and an engineer with Symantec in Mountain View, Calif. “The Industry Connections program handles the administrative details so that participants can focus on the issues they are trying to resolve.”
MEANWHILE, IN ASIA
Several Industry Connections activities address needs such as developing sources of low-cost electricity and reducing air pollution. For example, the Indian Low Voltage DC Forum, a collaboration formed last year by more than 30 companies, government agencies, and academic institutions, is exploring the merits of supplying homes and commercial buildings in India with direct current, instead of alternating current, using DC microgrids. India suffers from a major shortage of electricity generation capacity, even though it is the world’s fourth largest energy consumer, after the United States, China, and Russia.
The benefits of applying DC are clear. Solar energy, a renewable and non-greenhouse-gas producing technology, yields DC power. Also, batteries to store energy from solar cells are charged with DC. (When the DC is used to power traditional AC electronics, conversions from DC to AC first have to be performed, which results in some energy loss.)
The forum is looking to test the use of DC in appliances and other equipment in existing commercial buildings, homes, and microgrids. The devices and facilities are being built by the government’s Central Power Research Institute and other parties. Storage, distribution, and protection of the DC system are planned, as is a connection with the traditional power utility AC systems.
After the group completes its research, it plans to publish its findings. Exploring the use of DC in India could provide metrics to make informed decisions about how to proceed elsewhere with low- and medium-voltage (up to 600-volt) DC-powered systems.
Another Industry Connections activity, Green Power Generation, newly formed in June, is striving to reduce China’s air pollution by making the country’s coal-fired power plants cleaner and more efficient. Most of the country’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, the largest contributor to China’s air pollution. Program participants include Tsinghua University, the China Electrical Council’s Standardization Management Center, and China Datang Corp., an electric utility.
Green Power Generation is focusing on three main areas: researching control technologies for reducing air pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants, improving the energy efficiency of the coal plants, and exploring clean-energy technologies including renewable alternatives such as wind.
“Today’s technologies and many of the challenges they are meant to address are global,” Logvinov notes. “It is impossible for any one company to wrap its arms around an entire technology or solve these enormous problems. You need big and small companies and others collaborating all together to create a new ecosystem.”
More examples and information about the Industry Connections program can be found at the program’s website.