IR4.0 1


The Fourth Industrial Revolution, known as Industry 4.0 in Europe or Smart Manufacturing in North America, is an evolving set of intelligent production equipment, control and coordination software, systems and technologies which inter-communicate and inter-operate with each other within production plants and across supply & distribution chains, to intelligently and autonomously coordinate supply, production and distribution with minimal human involvement.

Industry 4.0 digital technologies comprise cloud computing, big data analytics, Internet of Things, advanced robotics, cyber security, simulation, augmented reality, additive manufacturing, and systems integration, all communicating with and working together.

For this to work, all these intelligent systems must be able to correctly read, understand and correctly act upon the data exchanged between each other, much like colleagues within an organisation and in different countries need to communicate with each other in a common language and terminology understood by all so as to get their work done properly.

This perhaps is also why the Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint file formats, albeit proprietary, have been adopted by their users as de-facto standard file formats exchanged between each other via e-mail, WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram and so forth.

Imagine trying to open and read a document created and saved in WordPerfect, WordStar, DisplayWrite, Multimate or PFS Write file format with Microsoft Word, or a VisiCalc spreadsheet with Excel.

Most likely, you won’t be able to open documents or spreadsheets in incompatible file formats, and even if you can, it will most likely be hard to make sense of them, which brings us back to the title of this article – Do Industry 4.0 Standards Matter?

With Industry 4.0 technologies and systems still being developed and evolving, the four expert panellists in the Do IR 4.0 Standards Matter? Webinar held on 31 March 2022 concurred that Industry 4.0 standards do matter in order to realise their full potential.

The four panellists were:-

  • Mr. Abdul Fattah Mohamed Yatim MIEM, an ICT advocate, former Deputy Chairman of Malaysia’s Standards Committee on IT, Communications and Multimedia, and former Chairman of Malaysia’s Standards Committee on Blockchain and DLT; These committees, hosted by the Department of Standards Malaysia, work on standards development with many other countries, coordinated by the International Organization for Standardization or ISO.
  • Prof. Ir. Dr. Tan Chee Fai FIEM, FAAET, Hon.FAFEO, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Infrastructure University KL who is also involved in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards bodies in standards related to Smart Manufacturing.
  • Mr. Cheng Boon Seng, CEO and Director of Elliance Sdn Bhd – a systems integrator which provides Industry 4.0 solutions to clients – basically, an on-the-ground Industry 4.0 solutions practitioner.
  • Prof. Dr. Ming Chen who is on a committee of China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, played a leading role in setting up China first Industry 4.0 Smart Factory Lab (Tongji University) and also is Chief Expert on Industry 4.0 in China.

The webinar was organised by the Malaysia Project-Management Practitioners Community ( in collaboration with the Malaysian National Computer Confederation (MNCC) and the MNCC – Artificial Intelligence Special Interest Group (MNCC AI SIG).

In his introduction, MNCC President Prof. Dr. Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar who moderated the panel discussion, clarified that Malaysia’s National Policy on Industry 4.0 (Industry 4WRD) launched on 31 October 2018 by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) focuses mostly on manufacturing industries, whilst Malaysia’s National Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) Policy launched on 29 June 2021 by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) focuses on all other areas such as education, construction, digital economy and so forth.

Standards matter but…

“Standards matter but there are some caveats”, said Mr. Fattah, and that beyond Industry 4.0 standards, there is a need to look at governance and management systems standards.

He cited the major failure of an airport’s information systems in 2019 which resulted in disruption for days and losses to the airport and airlines. He had checked the airport management website then and found that whilst it had ISO/IEC 27001 information security management system (ISMS) certification, however it did not have an ISO 22301 business continuity management systems certification.

“Whilst airports have lots of high-tech systems as well as information and communication technology systems including Industry 4.0, however they also need management systems standards”, said Mr. Fattah.

The ISO harmonised all management systems standards since 10 years ago. They adopt a risk-based approach and besides ISO/IEC 27001 and ISO 22301, this set of management system standards include those for quality, IT services, environmental, occupational health & safety, anti-bribery, security for supply chain, for educational organisations, food safety, energy, road traffic safety and asset management.

Risk management is mandatory in the planning stage whilst leadership is important in driving implementation. In Industry 4.0 implementation, we want all systems to work and must make sure that all systems fall into place, which is basically assured by management systems standards.

Management system standards will enable questions regarding the scope of the management system, the roles and responsibilities including risk owner; risk management to assess risk likelihood and risk impact, and risk treatment measures to reduce the risks to acceptable levels acceptable to the organisation; competencies to manage and implement or enforce the management system; records to keep, to review, revisit or revise, corrective measures to take, and so forth; management meetings, review of performance versus agreed measurement benchmarks, risk assessment, audits and so forth; procedure documents, assets, records, the high-risk areas and so forth; why do records, certain procedures need to be done and so forth; and how audits and risk assessments are performed, to improve and so forth to be answered anytime in a normal day-to-day operations.

When events or incidents happen or operations deviate from the organisation’s defined or expected norm, these standards will enable management to answer questions such as who is responsible to lead the resolution; what corrective actions or recovery plan to activate; when to activate corrective actions and recovery plans; where are the resources such as the people, tools, contractors to perform the recovery; why those responsible took a certain course of action; and finally following a post-incident review, why and how the event or incident happened, lessons learned and how to prevent its recurrence or minimise its impact if a similar incident recurs.

The ISO has many standards that also support the United Nations’ 17 Sustainability Development Goals or SDG. Industry 4.0 solutions are currently being used and are expected to be heavily used to implement and achieve the SDG. Industry 4.0 standards therefore are key to enable the SDG to be achieved.

“Also, think carefully whether your effort spent on standards compliance, commensurate with your business. Tailor the standards to your organisation’s objectives, size, needs, and so forth. Industry 4.0 implementation typically incorporates several technologies under the Industry 4.0 umbrella to be integrated and interoperate. Interoperability is hence a key consideration with Industry 4.0 standards”, said Mr. Fattah.

Interoperability facets in ISO standards comprise five categories:-

  • The transport facet with regards the communications infrastructure and how data is transferred between systems.
  • Syntactic interoperability where the formats of the exchanged information can be understood by participating systems.
  • Semantic data interoperability where the meaning of the data model within the context of a subject area is understood by participating systems.
  • Behavioural interoperability where the actual result of the exchange achieves the expected outcome.
  • Policy interoperability while complying with the legal, organisational and policy frameworks applicable to the participating systems.

Malaysia also has many roadmaps, strategies, and blueprints which mention some standards (to be referenced or used), not all of which are ICT-specific. Such roadmaps, strategies and blueprints include the 12th Malaysia Plan, Industry4WRD, National 4IR Policy, Dasar Sains, Teknologi dan Inovasi Negara (National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy), Shared Property Vision 2030, National Anti Corruption Plan 2019-2023, National Automotive Policy, MySTIE Framework, Malaysia Smart City Framework and the National Cyber Security Strategic Plan 2020-2024, which have already been launched; as well as the National Blockchain Roadmap, National Robotics Roadmap and the National AI Roadmap which are pending release.

Many of the Science and Technology targets under most of Malaysia’s Five-year Development Plans have not been achieved and many of the policy pronouncements have remained statements of intent. Performance has always fallen short of the targets’, according to the book Malaysia Policies & Issues in Economic Development by Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia (released more than a decade ago), which refers to the earlier 8th and 9th Malaysia Development Plans.

“However evidently, following the above eye-opener quote from the book, in addition to the five year plans, we have generally not improved in our delivery of our plans, roadmaps, strategies and blueprints since then, perhaps even covering other programs beyond technology projects”, said Mr. Fattah.

Meanwhile, a think-tank of the Group of 20 (G20) nations’ Blueprint for Innovative Growth identifies blockchain technologies as the glue which integrates other emerging technologies such as Industry 4.0. These include innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, Big Data, cloud computing, new materials, augmented reality, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

“So standards matter, but make sure that the standards work for the organisation, and not for the organisation to work or be burdened by the standards”, said Mr. Fattah.

For that, all standards are scalable or can be tailored to meet the specific organisational sizes, types, and sectors; they must ensure proper governance, and enhance communication to foster understanding of their uses; they must ensure common terminology and interoperability; certification (where applicable and recommended) must be an independent affirmation of compliance; standards must assure stakeholders’ interests are addressed, and must increase clients’ or customers’ confidence.

“So do your part in the promotion and correct use of standards”, Mr. Fattah concluded.

In Part 2, we will look at the importance of common Industry 4.0 standards and at practical implementations of Industry 4.0 in Malaysian industries.