The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) affects virtually every electronic device currently in use around the world. Their recommendations and standards may be voluntary, but more and more countries across the world are writing these standards into their own laws. They level the playing field for international trade and protect consumers purchasing increasingly complicated technology.


What Is the IEC?

There are millions of types of devices that either contain, use, or produce electricity. All of them rely on IEC standards to fit, perform, and work safely together. The IEC was founded in 1906 and is the leading organization in the world that prepares and publishes standards for all electronics and all related technologies. Together, devices that fit under these broad categories are called “electrotechnology.”

The IEC also provides platforms to businesses, government entities, and industries that want to meet, discuss, and develop international standards. All IEC standards are consensus-based and are created to represent key stakeholders of each nation that participates in IEC work. Regardless of the size of a particular country, each has a single vote.


More About the Development of and Compliance with IEC Standards

Many people are affected by the application of IEC standards, including the companies that manufacture products, trade organizations, consumers, government agencies, purchasers, and regulators. Though the adoption of IEC standards is voluntary, they’re frequently referenced in national laws throughout the world. Experts from a wide range of countries work together to create these standards.

The World Trade Organization created a Technical Barrier to Trade Agreement, in which they note that though the IEC standards are voluntary, their recommendation is for its members to follow them instead of national or regional standards.


Understanding the Importance of Conformity Assessment

As technology becomes more complex, users understand less and less about the design and construction of electronics. Conformity assessment is any activity that delineates whether a system, service, or product meets the requirements within a specification. These specifications, which are often standards, are technical descriptions of the specific characteristics of a service, object, or product.

The IEC supports conformity assessments and runs three systems themselves, all of which operate based on third-part conformity assessment certifications. These certifications confirm that a product is reliable and can meet expectations in several areas, including durability, safety, efficiency, performance, and additional criteria.

IEC standards combined with conformity assessments meet two main needs: removing trade barriers by offering an internationally accepted certification process that reduces the need for redundant testing and approval by various countries, and reassuring consumers by giving them confidence that the electronics they’re purchasing are energy efficient, environmentally friendly, safe to use, and will perform according to their expectations.


The IEC’s Technology Sectors

The IEC has 7 specific technology sectors they oversee. They are:

  1. Electrical energy zone. The IEC helps to keep the lights on by providing international standards for thermal power sources (like gas, coal, and oil), nuclear power sources, and renewable power sources (like wind, water, and sun). Their standards cover both connection and use, as well as detailed guidance for specific implementations. Their goals are to assure safety, compatibility, and energy efficiency for consumers.
  2. World plugs. Electrical plugs and sockets vary throughout the world. The IEC has created information for consumers that makes it easy to see which plugs are needed where, and they’ve also created recommendations for how voltage, sockets, and plugs could be standardized throughout the world.
  3. Functional safety. Safety is applicable to every technology in the world, from file sharing to nuclear power. IEC standards offer comprehensive safety-related recommendations to reduce risk for a wide range of equipment and technologies.
  4. Smart energy. The demand for energy is not going to decrease, and current product methods aren’t sustainable. The IEC standards offer guidance on smart electrification to sensibly consume power.
  5. Renewable energies. Standardizing renewable energy technologies makes it easy to create a foundation of certification that promotes international trade of uniform products and encourages the sharing of information that allows experts to keep pace with developments across all applicable fields.
  6. Color management. Many people take it for granted that colors are the same everywhere, but without standards in place, all computers wouldn’t all read colors the same way. The result would be different hues on different systems.
  7. Smart grid. Electrical energy must be used as soon as it’s generated and it has to be supplied continuously. Most power grids use technology that was created 100 years ago, but smart grids are updating those older systems to add the latest technologies.

Though IEC standards don’t apply specifically to document management systems, or file sharing and transfer, they do affect the electronics on which people access software needed for their paperless office. Without these standards, accessing the technology you need would be more difficult.