September/October 2010

Standards: Laying the groundwork for innovation, security

By H. L. "Leo" Staples Jr.

Companies around the world are feeling the pressures of globalization, regulatory complexity, economic instability, and workforce development.

In challenging times, successful companies find ways to innovate. Technology innovations are the lifeblood of industry, allowing companies to optimize processes, lower costs, and mitigate risk. Innovation speed often depends on our ability to develop and test protocols, which ensure the safety, reliability, and efficiency of new technology. Undoubtedly, successful companies must also expand into developing markets; safe, efficient, and reliable operations afford companies the opportunity to compete for market share.

Our challenges are complex, significant, and prevalent. Industry standards, such as those developed by ISA, are among the most underrated tools available to address these challenges.

Industry standards are developed by suppliers and users coming together in consensus to establish widely accepted specifications for products, processes, and services. Consensus standards improve communication within industry; provide practical applications of expert knowledge; and represent years of experience, saving companies development time and expense. ISA has over 4,000 industry expert volunteers working on more than 140 committees to create standards that will shape the way we do business. Hundreds of additional standards development organizations and regulatory bodies engage in the creation and promulgation of standards globally.

The power industry utilizes standards to reduce risk, increase reliability, and improve efficiency. Some of the most significant standards for power plants address safety instrumented systems, cyber security, system reliability, alarm management, and power plant automation.

Like many others, the power industry has and will continue to experience significant changes. Smart Grid is just another in a long line of system automation innovations that have dramatically changed the industry and the workforce. Innovation comes at the price of increased vulnerability in our power generation and transmission systems, and we must protect and secure that infrastructure. 

With that in mind, dozens of security standards efforts are underway globally. The International Electrotechnical Commission is developing security standards focused on power system control and data communications. The Power Engineering Society is adapting standards developed by the American Gas Association for cryptographic protection of SCADA communications to fit electric power industry needs. In a companion standard, IEEE is developing cyber security protocols to connect SCADA systems to master stations.

ISA99, which addresses cyber security for control systems, is a vital security standard for dozens of industries. More than 300 North American and international members from end users, suppliers, contractors, universities, and government organizations are developing this standard to address distributed control systems, PLCs, SCADA, networked electronic sensing, monitoring, and diagnostic systems. 

While these security standards help individual companies protect their systems and processes, other groups are developing standards and best practices to address a wider scope of concerns.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has charged the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) with developing standards to protect the reliability of the North American power grid. NERC established the Cyber Security Standards for critical infrastructure protection (CIP-002 through CIP-009) to provide a security framework for the identification and protection of critical cyber assets. Currently, NERC is updating the CIP standards designed to enhance the reliability of the electric power grid. The U.S. government also relies on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to assist the private sector in standards development and testing. 

These critical security-focused standards and regulations represent a fraction of the standards that impact the power industry's future. ISA's fossil power-plant standards committee, ISA77, represents a broad consensus of stakeholders in the global power utility industry. The committee establishes definitions, design and measurement requirements, and practical application practices for plant-generation stations. Currently, the ISA77 committee is developing documents addressing steam turbine controls, plant automation, functional diagramming, SCR controls, and tracking and controlling instrument documentation.

Every industry has critical standards that affect the way they do business. Is your company up-to-date on the standards in your industry? Are you actively using legally-acquired standards in your plant? 

The strength of industry standards lies in the consensus development process; the process depends on active participation from users, suppliers, and academia. ISA's standards committees are open to all professionals. Join one, and contribute your expertise to establish the foundations upon which your company will innovate. 


H. L. "Leo" Staples Jr., a 30-year veteran of the power generation industry, is the Compliance Management Leader in the Power Supply Division of OGE Corp. He is an ISA Fellow and the 2010 ISA President-elect Secretary.