Connectivity 101

ISO: Why it Matters

By Jim Wilson, AgGateway Chief Technology Officer

If you’ve been following along with AgGateway Working Groups and Committees, you have likely noted more buzz around ISO standards being tied to AgGateway activities. But what exactly is ISO, how does it work, what are the touchpoints with AgGateway, and what does it mean for members?

ISO is one of the oldest non-governmental international organizations, bringing together global experts to agree on the best way to establish standardized information, products, and processes since 1946. They have standards covering almost anything you can think of, with more than 25,000 international standards managed by more than 800 technical committees and subcommittees representing 170 countries.

ISO’s members are countries usually the country’s national standards organization. For example, in the United States it is the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), in Germany it is the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN), and in Brazil it is Associação Brasileira de Normas (ABNT).

ISO work is conducted in projects, which are almost always managed by working groups (WG). Working groups are established by ISO technical committees (TC) or subcommittees (SC). Each ISO TC and SC has a secretariate, which appoints the committee leadership, and performs most day-to-day administrative functions with ISO-staff assistance. The organization providing the secretariate services may be the member (i.e., generally a national standards body or an organization approved by a national standards body). An example is the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), which manages ISO/TC 23/SC 19 Agricultural Electronics. This is the subcommittee that AgGateway has worked with on proposals to modify ISO11783 PAIL Irrigation work (ISO 7673).

The work of generating the information required to develop standards is complex and rigorous. For example, national organizations will often establish “mirror” committees to ISO Technical committees or subcommittees. US mirror committees are referred to as “TAGs” (Technical Advisory Group) by ANSI and the TAG members. The mirror committees organize efforts determine the members position on various ISO ballot questions as well as discuss, submit proposals for new standards work, and determine individual country’s opinions and recommendations to be promoted within the ISO TC, SC, or WG.

An example of this is the new ISO/TC 347 on smart agrifood systems. This TC has forty members (i.e., countries), which are now organizing their mirror committees. In the US, ASABE recently held its first informational session for the US TAG 347 to explain the new committee and encourage people to sign up. In Germany, DIN is conducting similar activities.

So, what does any of this have to do with AgGateway? An understanding of how ISO operates is helpful since AgGateway may decide to promote some of our digital resources to an international standard. Understanding what technical committees exist in ISO – and what countries and respective organizations are involved – can be important to determine what group is responsible for different domains. It is also important to understand what various ISO committees are working on or have developed that might be relevant to inform AgGateway work.

In AgGateway we have always strived to avoid reinventing the wheel, including developing standards where something may already exist. Sifting through all the different ISO standards to understand the intent and relevance for a given use case or context often requires a little explanation from people on the committee. Knowing the right people or at least where to start asking questions is key.

And AgGateway leadership is fully engaged -- Brent Kemp serves as Chair of the US TAG to ISO/TC 347, member Andres Ferreyra serves as the Chair of ISO/TC 347, and I serve as Convenor to the Smart Farming Coordinating Committee, a group that is responsible to the ISO Board to coordinate ISO’s smart farming-related projects and communications.

Working with ISO can be time consuming, but the value of having an internationally recognized standard is helpful in driving adoption and solving interoperability issues in most any industry. AgGateway is pleased to be actively involved with ISO on behalf of our members and the industry at large.

Being at the table and engaged with other organizations helping to develop standards is key to ensuring the work AgGateway undertakes is relevant and aligned with the broader global industry.