Standardization is a truly international activity, and I’ve been lucky to have worked with more nationalities than I can remember. But, that said, my first business meeting with a German remains etched in my memory. It was in fact nothing more than a working breakfast, a chance to meet face-to-face after a good number of productive and friendly phone calls. “So, we’ll meet at the café at half-nine? Look forward to meeting you then!”
Well, it turns out that for Germans, half-nine, means half-an-hour-before-nine-o’clock-has-arrived (08:30), while for an Englishman, such as myself, it means half-an-hour-has-passed-since-nine-o’clock (09:30). It was an embarrassing mistake, though without serious consequence; an apology, and the pancakes and coffee on me. But it could have been something much more serious than a fudged Frühstück.
That’s why in 1988, ISO 8601 was published. In a single document, Data elements and interchange formats – Information interchange – Representation of dates and times, established a fool-proof format for computer users, ensuring that critical events happen on time. Whether scheduling flights and public transport; broadcasting sports events; keeping public records; managing major projects; or establishing a reliable way to swap the inconceivably huge amount of data that keeps modern life on track, ISO 8601 is a game-changer.
So when I saw that TC 154, the 39-member strong ISO Technical Committee for Processes, data elements and documents in commerce, industry and administration had worked to publish a draft in December 2016 that updates ISO 8601, I was intrigued. Since the current edition was published, in 2004, what could possibly have changed about date and time? There are still 24-hours in a day, 365 (and-a-bit) days in year? So why a new International Standard?
If anybody can shed some light on this, it is Klaus-Dieter Naujok, the chairman of TC 154. A quick look at his résumé reveals that Klaus been involved in standardizing data exchange since the infancy of computing. Among a wealth of other projects, he’s worked on the UN/EDIFACT standard that formed a basis for subsequent ISO standards in the field. And since 2013 he’s been Convenor of TC 154’s Working Group 5, which deals with the specialised area of representation of time and dates. So, he’s definitely the person to speak to.